The Finest Hours is not a film that’s going to be nominated for any awards come next award season. Its claim to fame thus far has been the fact that it’s a box office flop, reportedly losing $75 million for Disney. A few articles have turned up calling Chris Pine “box office poison” and using this film as a perfect example of his audience-grabbing woes.
But, as regular readers of TMP will know, I’m not one to turn away from a film due to a bad reputation or poor box office numbers. I was actually excited to see The Finest Hours, for a few reasons. One, it’s set in the midcentury — obviously appealing to someone with an interest in that era’s culture, society, fashions, and films. It’s based on a true story, which is always a “buzz” phrase for me. It’s also a story of a Coast Guard rescue, and my dad is involved with the Coast Guard, so I was particularly excited to see it with him. Worst case scenario, I figured we could play “spot the error” in general boating accuracy/Coast Guard rescue procedure, which is always a fun game. (Yes, we are nerds. This apple didn’t fall far from the tree!)
The film tells the story of Bernie Webber (Pine), a Coastie stationed in Massachusetts. He’s fallen in love with a local girl named Miriam (Holliday Grainger), and they’re planning to get married soon. First, Bernie wants to get the permission of station commander Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) — a formal regulation of the Coast Guard which few men other than Bernie seem to be interested in following.
Bernie’s plans to ask for Cluff’s permission are tossed to the wind (pun intented) when a winter storm leads to tragedy on the high seas. The SS Pendleton, an oil tanker, has split clean in half, leaving its crew in grave danger. Much of the station’s resources — including their best boats — are already being used to assist another ship in the area, the SS Fort Mercer. Bravely, despite warnings that he could be leading himself to certain death, Bernie elects to take a small boat into the storm in effort to reach the Pendleton‘s crew and save their lives.
While telling the story of Bernie and his efforts in the rescue mission, The Finest Hours also offers perspective from the Pendleton’s terrified crew, including engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck). The film was directed by Craig Gillespie.
Though I was excited to see this film with my dad, I still kept my expectations moderate. I didn’t go in hoping for some Oscar-worthy masterpiece. It is, after all, a live-action Disney film released in January — notoriously regarded as one of the worst months of the year for movie releases.
It turned out that I enjoyed The Finest Hours, because I didn’t expect a whole lot out of it. It isn’t a great film, but it does feature a few very thrilling action sequences and a fascinating story. The pace is steady throughout, and to me it felt like the film was over in a blink. The supporting performances are good, and I enjoyed Casey Affleck in particular. It’s truly incredible that the Pendleton was able to stay afloat for so long with such extensive damage, and the magnitude of the rescue is certainly made clear by the film.
The few areas where the film goes wrong, however, do have a great impact on its appeal and re-watchability. Though the supporting cast is quite good, Chris Pine and Holliday Grainger are both pretty forgettable. They make a cute enough pair, and Ms. Grainger has the perfect look for midcentury period films, but these two leads don’t have huge chemistry. Big casting mistake since their romance plays an important part in the film, establishing a “ship to shore” connection that reminds us just what Bernie is at risk of giving up by taking on the mission. Additionally, the character development all around is very shallow.
One one last, particularly nitpicky note, I thought the 3D felt very unnecessary in this film. I’m never a fan of the technology, since I wear prescription glasses and have to layer the 3D lenses over my own glasses (such a pain!), but even in the action sequences I felt that the film would have had just as much impact without the use of 3D.
I would say that The Finest Hours is worth one watch if you’re at all interested in maritime history, since it is based on a fascinating, very risky, real-life small boat rescue. If you’re simply seeking a ’50s-set period film, though, there are better boats to board.