The Finest Hours 

 

Half

 

The true-life tale of a sea rescue mission off the coast of Massachusetts is well-intentioned and beautifully shot but rather underwhelming.

 

It’s been quite a year for blizzards. Besides ‘Snowzilla,’ which engulfed the Northeastern US in January, we’ve had some impressive cinematic white-outs in The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. Moving forward to 1952, Craig Gillespie’s The Finest Hours is based on true events now known as “the Pendleton rescue mission” – and there’s a lot of snow. It is quite a story, too, chronicled in Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman's book of the same name, subtitled The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue.

 

Finest Hours

Water will out

 

It would seem apt to cast Chris Pine as Bernie Webber, the selfless Coast Guard skipper who risked his life to search for the survivors of the SS Pendleton, a T2 oil tanker ripped in half by a blizzard of Biblical proportions. Indeed, the film goes to great pains to build up Webber’s backstory, his adherence to the rule book and his love of the homely telephone operator Miriam Pentinen (played by the Manchester-born Holliday Grainger). But as Webber is painted as a timorous, hen-pecked individual, Pine seems a strange choice for the role. After all, he is all too familiar as Captain Kirk and Jack Ryan, not to mention the arrogant Prince Charming in Into the Woods. Here, he really does appear out of place. It’s odd, too, to see Ben Foster – one of Hollywood’s most versatile, dangerous and committed actors – with so little dialogue, while Eric Bana, as their commanding officer, seems very ill-at-ease as a suit from the Deep South. These are not people we believe in. Much better is Holliday Grainger, who slips effortlessly into the role of a woman to the 1950s born.

 

When the action, does, eventually come, there’s little emotional investment in the human characters and for all the ferocious might of the merciless elements, we are but reminded of better films like The Perfect Storm and In the Heart of the Sea. And Gillespie fatally blots his copybook when, at a pivotal moment, the corn does sprout as high as an elephant’s eye (you’ll know it when you see it). And for all its attempts at nautical authenticity, the film does jar in other respects. At the saloon where Bernie and Miriam first meet, the old salts gathered round the bar don’t share a single cigarette – or pipe – between them. Is this political correctness gone mad? Is this not 1952 – in a saloon? For all this, The Finest Hours exudes an air of old-fashioned gravitas, as if following the directorial modus operandi of the older Clint Eastwood (think Changeling and J. Edgar) and it really should’ve been much, much more exciting.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz, Graham McTavish, Rachel Brosnahan, Matthew Maher, Abraham Benrubi.

 

Dir Craig Gillespie, Pro Dorothy Aufiero and James Whitaker, Screenplay Eric Johnson, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy, Ph Javier Aguirresarobe, Pro Des Michael Corenblith, Ed Tatiana S. Riegel, Music Carter Burwell, Costumes Louise Frogley.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/Whitaker Entertainment/Red Hawk Entertainment-Walt Disney Pictures.

117 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 19 February 2016. Cert. 12A.