McCoy on Movies: The Finest Hours

McCoy on Movies: The Finest Hours

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It’s considered the greatest small boat rescue in the history of the US Coast Guard, but is The Finest Hours worth two of your time? Click to see!


“OK, so if I pull this hard enough, I get to be the next Batman after my brother?” Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) attempts to keep his ship, the SS Pendelton, from sinking in a scene from Disney’s THE FINEST HOURS. Credit: Claire Folger. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.



KEY CAST MEMBERS: Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Graham McTavish, John Ortiz, Abraham Benrubi, Rachel Brosnahan, John Magaro, Michael Raymond-James and Eric Bana
WRITER(S): Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (screenplay); Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias (book on which the movie is based).
DIRECTOR(S): Craig Gillespie
60 SECOND PLOT SUMMARY (OR AS CLOSE TO THAT TIME AS ONE CAN MAKE IT): Based on true events taking place on the evening of Feb. 18, 1952, The Finest Hours stars Chris Pine as Bernie Webber, a rather unassuming member of the U.S. Coast Guard’s station in Chatham, Mass. Despite his rather quiet nature, there’s something about Bernie that appeals to Miriam (Holliday Grainger), a woman who takes a quick liking him to enough to propose to him. Being a member of the Coast Guard, however, Bernie takes his job very seriously, which is why he will be sure to ask his commander, Cluff (Eric Bana), before he can actually tie the knot with Miriam.

He quickly discovers his request will have to wait, however, once a distress call comes in across the radio saying an oil tanker, the SS Mercer, has been split in two by a colossal storm just off the coast. Of course, that would be a problem in and of itself if it weren’t for the fact that a second oil tanker, the SS Pendleton, has suffered a similar fate – and taken its captain down to the bottom of the ocean’s depths in the process. Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), has a plan to keep the ship from sinking – but he’s running out of time to do so. Going out to save the crew of the Pendleton in these conditions is seemingly nothing short of a suicide mission, yet Cluff – who has yet to win the hearts of his unit – sends Bernie out in the storm anyway. And being the company man determined to always do the right thing, Bernie goes, taking volunteers Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) with him. 

What follows is what constitutes what is widely considered the greatest small boat mission in the history of the Coast Guard to this day …

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? People who like movies with strong female characters; people who enjoy endurance pictures; those who love a classic Disney ending; Casey Affleck fans; those who enjoy 3D films where the special effects are an enhancement, not a distraction
WHO WONT (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? Chris Pine fans coming in expecting him as a young Captain Kirk on the high seas; people who hate hokey endings; those who would rather watch a documentary about a historical event than a Hollywood novelization; Eric Bana fans; anyone with a fear of boats or easily gets seasick; anyone not interested in another boat movie after In the Heart of the Sea 
SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? Ever seen one of those movies where for the first 30 minutes or so, you’re not emotionally invested in the story at all even though you can tell the filmmakers are building towards something that might be decent? If your answer is “no” or it’s been a while since you have, The Finest Hours will serve as a quick study in this phenomenon as the cliché idea of a film being a mixed bag has rarely been so fitting.

For a film that wants you to be enthralled with the idea of perseverance and romance, The Finest Hours sure doesn’t seem to be concerned with actually delivering it on a compelling level until very late in the film. Chris Pine nails being a working schlub so much that he, well, feels like a working schlub you have a hard time investing in emotionally. Sure he’s a nice enough guy it seems, but there is nothing inherently compelling – either on a surface level or deep-seeded in his emotions – that really makes you go “I feel him.” This wouldn’t be such an issue if Holliday Grainger wasn’t so fully committed to her role that she becomes the most intriguing figure in the film – and her only time on the water comes early and uneventfully. She steals the film as its emotional center even though her character is essentially reduced to being a headstrong woman who pines for her guy’s safe return home, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s fairly disappointing, really, that Pine’s understated performance actually, well, drags. Throw in Bana’s rather banal, maybe-it’s-supposed-to-be-comic-relief? performance as the overmatched Cluff and the only thing compelling about the finest hours is watching how things play out versus caring about why.

Casey Affleck fortunately provides a compelling character with subtle nuances to make him a guy you want to root for, making sure Sybert doesn’t fall victim of the trope of “he’s forced into this, now let’s heavy-handedly show you how he responds.” He provides a much-needed dosage of testosterone-fueled gumption, which is sorely lacking. The visuals of the film also do a solid job of keeping your attention as you watch the events unfold, which in turn give Affleck the best scenes to move things along. 

Other than that, though, you have too many elements that feel a bit stale to make the film rise above (no pun intended) “average” filmmaking. There’s the happy ship guy, the near-mutiny guys who have to learn the hard way to let the level-headed guy (Affleck) take charge, there’s the aforementioned guy who’s in charge who shouldn’t be (Bana) and just a general sense of 50s camp that doesn’t feel like nostalgia, but just pure camp. Sure, your grandparents will likely love it, but unless you’re a hopeless romantic, it’s not exactly Titanic or The Poseidon Adventure that they’re crafting here. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m knocking the movie as it is quite watchable … It’s just that once you’ve finished the voyage, you can’t help but feel like there was something more that could have been.

A pure Disney movie at its best and worst moments, The Finest Hours isn’t exactly the best two hour jaunt into the dangerous seas, but it’s got enough solid components to entertain the average moviegoer once the tide starts to come in.