The Finest Hours


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

The Finest Hours
"A functional disaster-cum-rescue film with a glut of special effects."

The Finest Hours proudly proclaims that it is a film based on the true story of how coastguards Webber, Fitzgerald, Livesey and Maske braved the odds to rescue the majority of the crew of the Pendleton - a tanker that split in half off the coast of Massachusetts in 1952. The problem with this is two-fold: first, in being based on a particularly sombre story, some of the facts are changed and the tragedy is given soft edges by Disney. Secondly - less important from a moralistic standpoint but definitely high priority with regards to entertainment - it causes the whole affair to lack bite.

Not that there is anything particularly wrong with the film as a whole: it’s a functional disaster-cum-rescue film with a glut of special effects that make the rescue feel more like an elaborate ride on one of the House of Mouse’s themed rollercoasters than a battle between man and nature set against the clock. There’s a notable exception to this: one sequence has the crew counting the breaks in waves as they attempt to get past the ominous turmoil that signals the break point of the coast, but after that brief respite it’s back to the weird and unnatural sight of a little boat skating over and slicing through pretty but too slick to be real CGI waves.

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With the stab at spectacle feeling a little damp and underdeveloped, director Craig Gillespie aims for the heart strings by eking some worthy performance out of the two leads. Chris Pine is on fine form as mumbly hunk Bernie Webber, and he sells the air of quiet confidence measured against an understanding of failure with economical ease. His counterpart is the Pendleton’s chief engineer, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), who has the unfortunate task of trying to unite a raucous and potentially mutinous bunch of seamen whilst also jerry-rigging a mechanism to keep the tail end of their split ship both afloat and in motion. With little room for humanity in the howling gales of the high seas, it’s no surprise that both of these characters are steely-eyed ciphers for grit, guile and gumption, but the performances bring warmth and consideration where other films may have opted for boorish bravado.

Back on shore, Eric Bana is the cantankerous Warrant Officer who sends Webber & Co. on what the rest of the coastguards deem to be a suicide mission, and Holliday Grainger is Webber’s fiance and surrogate for emotional resolution - Bernie has already messed up one rescue, leading a few people to have reservations about his ability and integrity, and Miriam is left to placate the townsfolk whilst Bernie risks his life.

The lack of teeth comes back right at the end, when everything slots into place just a little too neatly: Sybert reaches the miniscule rescue boat just in time for the whole cast to watch the piece of tail they’ve been scurrying around like drowned rats sink under the tumultuous waves, which cease just in time for the rescue boat to reach the shore. And, just like that rusting and broken stern, audience interest is set to dip into under the frothing surface of the film’s saccharine ending. It’s hard to expect anything else, but the omission of any grounding in the tragedy of the sinking, and the overtly rousing tone to the rescue means that The Finest Hours feels like a dry synopsis sprinkled with just enough flavour to allow for some emotional investment from those whose resolve is not worn away by the caustic swell of the sea.

Reviewed on: 17 Feb 2016
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The Finest Hours packshot
In 1952 coastguards makes a daring rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard.
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Director: Craig Gillespie

Writer: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy

Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger

Year: 2016

Runtime: 117 minutes

Country: US


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