Watching The Finest Hours made me think of how commendable it was to see Disney produce a historical disaster drama about a daring Coast Guard rescue. It is just too bad that all the visual effects used to convey a sense of scale were not enough to ever make the stakes feel that high. While the actual story is quite amazing, the approach to this film left me wanting more than just a maudlin handling of the people involved.
Putting credit where it is surely due, Casey Affleck is terrific in this movie. The film is set in 1952, the year where two oil tankers were split apart by a nor’easter (a big friggin’ storm). Affleck stars as Ray Sybert, the man who best understands the engine of the tanker and does what he can to keep half of it afloat, while over two dozen men wait for help to arrive.
The Finest Hours features a dual narrative about quiet men who follow their instincts and act when the time is right. With that role, Affleck is absolutely on point in how he handles his part, so much so that I wish the movie had more of a focus on his character. This should not be a put down to the film’s main star, Chris Pine, but the film really has to stretch to try and make him interesting.
Pine stars as Bernard Webber, the wary Boatswains Mate who is sent with three others on a motor life boat, against impossible odds, to rescue the tanker crew. The film actually starts earlier though, as it was deemed necessary to show us a very sappy love story involving Webber and his headstrong girlfriend Miriam (Holliday Grainger). Pine and Grainger are sweet together and that’s all well and good, but the continued presence of this part of the story unfortunately drags the whole film down.
Perhaps it is because of how inevitable everything seems to be. While the amount of survivors may be one of the few questions some unfamiliar with this story may have, it never really feels like anyone is in much jeopardy. This is the kind of film where the poster honestly feels like a bit of a spoiler, but even without that element, there is a handling of this story that seems very stereotypically Disney. There is little in the way of actual tragedy, just some sorrowful looks and bad attitudes now and again, with perseverance paving the way for eventual success.
It doesn’t help that the girlfriend subplot takes too much time away from learning more about the tanker crewman and the other Coast Guard members. I’ve mentioned how great Affleck is and it would be nice to have more than obligatory character types standing around him. Another easy example is Eric Bana’s character, Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff. We basically have to fend for ourselves, when it comes to understanding his decisions. Anytime spent fleshing him out, or Ben Foster’s character for that matter, could have easily made up for it.
Adding more screen time for certain characters would be an issue however, as another grating aspect of this film is how languid it feels. I can understand wanting to establish a certain type of mood for a film like this, but director Craig Gillespie finds himself at odds with how to balance the drama with the more harrowing moments. Because of this, the film starts off incredibly slow and feels like a completely different movie when he decides to use elaborate special effects and camera tricks to show off how cool a storm can look with today’s special effects.
The Finest Hours has good intentions, but the results are a poorly-paced, tonally-confused film focused around characters who are either the too shy, but honest leads or underdeveloped supporting players. If the film was merely a procedural drama that stuck to the facts (Unstoppable, which also features Pine, is a fun example), it could have been more worthwhile, but the added levels of sentiment push the film to a place where I am supposed to care more deeply and I didn’t. Some mild thrills and visual wonder was fun in their moments, but as a whole, The Finest Hours felt lost at sea.