‘They don’t make ’em like they used to’ is an oft-used phrase regarding movies, but director Craig Gillespie didn’t get that memo with The Finest Hours, a first rate throwback that thrills to the very end.
The film begins as Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a by the book Coast Guard who’s on a blind date with Miriam (Holliday Grainger), an iron willed woman who’s a total (excuse the pun!) dreamboat. Miriam’s a person of action, and during a formal dance she asks Bernie for his hand in marriage. Their gradual coupling serves as the opening section of The Finest Hours, and thanks to the innate chemistry between the lead actors, their romance is the heart of The Finest Hours. A substantial portion of the narrative focuses on Miriam’s journey as she tries her best to keep it together throughout Bernie’s dangerous assignment, and Grainger, whose career is definitely on the rise, is more than up to the task.
Bernie is tasked by Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana, in an undercooked role) to spearhead a rescue mission for the men of the SS Pendleton, an oil tanker that has been split in two. The ocean that rests near Bernie’s Chatham, Massachusetts Coast Guard station is treacherous and unforgiving. Venturing to the waters with just three other men (Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro) on a 36-foot wooden boat is a disaster waiting to happen, but Bernie is determined to get the job done.
Casey Affleck is Raymond Sybert, the chief engineer of the SS Pendleton who becomes the ship’s de facto leader. Like Bernie, Raymond isn’t the most sociable guy, but when the rubber hits the road, both men prove to be natural leaders. Director Craig Gillespie arms with crew with a slew of excellent veteran actors (John Ortiz, Michael Raymond-James, Abraham Benrubi), and though most moviegoers may not understand the film’s ship jargon, the stellar ensemble brings a level of believability to the proceedings.
With 70% of the water scenes shot in a tank holding up to 800,000 gallons of water and the rest shot in open water, The Finest Hours was a massive undertaking for the cast and crew. Throw in the special effects and the post production conversion to 3D, The Finest Hours could be simply construed as yet another “event movie” that exists as one-dimensional, popcorn driven fare.
As evidenced with his previous work Million Dollar Arm and Lars and the Real Girl, Gillespie understands that human relationships are the true driving force of cinema. By giving us a palpable bond between Bernie and Miriam and even letting some of the co-stars have their shining moments (though Foster’s character is a bit one note, co-stars Beau Knapp, who plays Bernie’s co-worker and best friend, and Casey Affleck deliver memorable performances), The Finest Hours catches its greatest wave via human relationships. The immersive special effects and production design are definitely eye-catching and worth watching on 3D, but hopefully by the film’s final moments you’ll discover that these waters are deeper than you think.
The Finest Hours opens nationwide Friday, January 29. To hear me and Anderson Cowan review the film on our movie podcast CinemAddicts, check out the Soundcloud bar below. Also please subscribe, rate, and/or review our show on iTunes.
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