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The Finest Hours


Directed by Craig Gillespie

Written by Scot Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson

Starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Holliday Graineger, Eric Bana, Ben Foster

Film review by Marko Mandic

The events that this new Disney blockbuster depicts are nothing short of astounding. A Pendleton T2 oil tanker (a very big ship to us sea faring rookies out there) splits in half during a fierce storm in 1952 off the coast of Cape Cod. A four man Chatham Station coast guard rescue party went out in search of the tanker led by the oldest member of that party 24-year-old Bernie Webber (Chris Pine). In case anyone missed that, the oldest member of this suicidal rescue team was 24 years old! As bad luck would have it another tanker had split in half at the same time, meaning that the boys from Chatham Station were on their own. Nonetheless they went out and managed to rescue 33 members of the tanker crew.

For the most part the film’s narrative sticks respectably close to the true story, this is a wise move since the events it depicts are remarkable enough to hold their own against anything Hollywood can conjure up. For the bulk of the action we follow two lead characters. Bernie Webber and Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) chief engineer of the Pendleton. The film is at its best when we are on the doomed ship with Affleck. The tension and drama is palatable as is the ingenious methods utilised by the crew to keep their ship afloat long enough for a rescue. Affleck shines as usual and steals the show as the reluctant leader of the crew; giving a self-effacing performance while showing us Sybert’s human flaws as well as his capabilities. We don’t get a lot of back story but through Affleck’s performance we can see why the crew acts the way they do towards him. He is not the born, flawless leader most films of this breed churn out. The scenes on the ship come across as realistic and accurate. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the scenes on land which slip heavily into melodrama. The acting seems a lot more unnatural here, Eric Bana in particular looks to be on autopilot through the whole film, a shame since his portrayal of a character besmirched for his duty as a coastguard officer could have been handled better and with more vigour.

We are treated to the obligatory romantic sub-plot. Bernie’s soon to be wife (Holliday Grainger) is provided with some action and her role is justified in the end by somewhat illogical means (if you watch it you will know what I mean). The film could have done without this sub-plot. They kept close to the true story and the filmmakers should have carried that on in regards to Miriam Webber; Bernie and Miriam were in fact already married by this point and though Miriam did work as a telephone operator she spent the whole storm at home due to a case of the flu.

Other areas take yet more away from the story’s impact. The CGI, though good in some places pales in comparison to similar films such as the 2013 Robert Redford picture ‘All Is Lost’. Even Wolfgang Peterson’s ‘The Perfect Storm’ despite its many misgivings outshines The Finest Hours with its depiction of an oceanic storm.

In essence, The Finest Hours is hampered by predominantly sub par acting (with some notable exceptions), shallow characters and the seemingly inevitable Hollywood endeavour of fixing things that are simply not broken. The film succeeds in bringing this incredible true story to people’s attention but unfortunately cowers out of putting all its faith into the story alone without the standard bells and whistles tacked on to most modern blockbusters. How cool would it have been for Disney to cast a 24-year-old in the role of Bernie Webber, just to show the audience how fearless the kids who performed “the greatest small-boat rescue the Coast Guard has seen” really were?

Read the true story then go watch this, if only to be amazed and inspired by the perseverance of the human spirit, just don’t expect a great film to go along with the great story.

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