Sunday 15 October 2017

Movie Review: The Finest Hours (2016)

A rescue-at-sea drama, The Finest Hours is serviceable but never rousing.

The year is 1952, the location coastal Massachusetts and the Chatham Coast Guard Station. Boatswain's Mate First Class Bernie Miller (Chris Pine) meets and falls in love with local girl Miriam (Holliday Grainger). When he dawdles to commit, she proposes marriage, but Bernie insists on following the tradition of requesting permission to get married from his stiff Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana).

But Cluff is preoccupied with a massive incoming storm, and two oil tankers break apart in rough seas on the same night. One of them is the SS Pendleton, where the reticent engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) has to rally the surviving crew to keep half the massive ship afloat. Using a small boat, Bernie is dispatched to the Pendleton's last known location on a dangerous rescue mission, joined by Coast Guard Seaman Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Engineman Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) and Navy Seaman Ervin Maske (John Magaro). Back on shore, Miriam frets about the fate of her husband-to-be.

The story of one of the Coast Guard's most famous rescues, The Finest Hours gets most of the technical details wrong, and is infused with a heavy dose of Disney's saccharine wholesomeness. The music crescendos to epic levels every five minutes, the dangers faced by Bernie and his crew are exaggerated to Greek mythology levels, the faces of Bernie and his love Miriam always glow in the incandescent light of love, and any hints of darkness, death, and guilt are pushed far to the edges, and often fully off-screen.

But after an ill-considered and really slow start that stumbles to connect Bernie with Miriam, director Craig Gillespie settles down to a respectable retelling of a harrowing rescue at sea, with Bernie's against-the-odds small-boat-in-a-big-storm journey intercut with Sybert rallying the Pendleton crew to improvise a pathway to survival. For once the CGI is extensive but also good; the images of a monstrous sea are impressive, whether threatening to swallow up Bernie's tiny motor lifeboat or mercilessly tossing half an oil tanker.

Less effective is Miriam's subplot back on shore. She runs around rather aimlessly and tangles with other locals who are suspicious about Bernie's competence due to a previous non-rescue that is only ever hinted at but never properly discussed, the script dangling a backstory and then timidly backing away from it.

Out on the seas Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are stoic without ever stretching, the enormity of events surrounding them enough to sustain the drama without the need for stellar performances.

The Finest Hours is a rescue adventure painted by numbers, produced with slick efficiency but tightly confined between dependable and predictable.

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