A new movie based on the book “The Finest Hours: The True Story Behind the US Coast Guard’s Most Daring Rescue,” is the kind of thriller that tries to get the audience excited by constantly reminding them that what we’re seeing is impossible.
“There’s no way they can get over that sandbar!” “This [insert hopeless situation] is a hopeless situation!” “We’ll never make it back to shore!”
Of course in this tale of greatest generation gumption most everything is going to work out well and that lack of any real stakes sucks much of the tension out of “The Finest Hours.”
Set in 1952 against the backdrop of a brutal New England nor’easter, the action begins when an oil tanker is ripped in half, stranding thirty soldiers in a floating coffin. As it fills with water their chances of survival reduce by the minute. On board engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) makes desperate attempts to stay afloat, hoping against hope that someone will brave the vicious 70-foot waves to rescue them.
Luckily for them a four-man Coast Guard crew led by Boatswains Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine along with Ben Foster, John Magaro and Kyle Gallner) in a small motor lifeboat CG 36500 are willing to brave the waves and bring the men back home.
The bulk of the film takes place on the water—imagine the H2O budget!—but while the men are battling the elements their families—most notably Bernie’s fiancée Miriam (Holliday Granger)—anxiously await the return of their loved ones from the grip of the storm.
“The Finest Hours” is a big, handsome movie with stern jawed heroes and plucky dames. It’s a story about the men who go to sea in ships, weather bombs and Hollywood heroism. It’s also a tad dull. Director Craig Gillespie doesn’t skimp on the action—there are waves a plenty—and the men are thrown into one precarious situation after the next but beyond the most cursory character work it never feels like a great deal of thought was put into the people populating the screen. Pine turns Bernie into a shy, insecure man who finds his heroic side but the charisma the actor usually brings to his roles is missing. The other actors hand in competent performances but the characters are so underwritten it feels as if they stumbled out of Central Casting before Gillespie shanghaied them for this film.
With few compelling characters the movie drifts along, hoping to reel you in with big, splashy (literally) visuals, but it’s all for naught. Filling the screen with action might entertain the eye but if you don’t care about the characters, how can you care about the action?
“The Finest Hours” has its heart in the right place but is sunk by earnestness and mannered presentation.