Mark Reviews Movies

The Finest Hours


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Cast: Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, Eric Bana, Rachel Brosnahan, Graham McTavish, John Magaro, Michael Raymond-James, Abraham Benrubi, Josh Stewart, Keiynan Lonsdale, Benjamin Koldyke, John Ortiz, Beau Knapp, Matthew Maher

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of peril)

Running Time: 1:57

Release Date: 1/29/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 28, 2016

During its best moments, The Finest Hours communicates the tremendous power of the sea and how it dwarfs humankind's best efforts to conquer or even to survive it. There are shots and scenes here that overwhelm with a sense of the kinetic, uncontrollable force of nature, as the stern section of a massive oil tanker, which has been ripped in two by the waves and a storm, is tossed around like a child's toy in a bathtub. Then there's a much smaller vessel, manned by four members of the United States Coast Guard, which much ascend these towering waves or plow straight them—the ship speeding underwater like a seabird diving for prey.

The movie's concerns seem almost exclusively nautical in nature, and that extends to the characters, as well. It makes perfect sense, given the situation at hand. There's little to no time for discussion about personal lives, especially for the men aboard the split tanker, who quickly realize that the remains of their ship are going to sink with all of them aboard unless they can determine a way to survive. For the men of the Coast Guard, there's a bit more in that regard. Our central protagonist is a man who is recently engaged to be married, and before the tanker and another one are torn in twain, his primary goal for the day is to receive permission from his commanding officer to marry his best girl.

If there's another thing, then, that the movie communicates effectively, it's the almost single-minded efforts of these men. In the moment, nothing else matters, except that the men aboard the tanker survive the storm and that the sailors in the Coast Guard boat reach the tanker before it is lost. In a way, the movie's driving dramatic force is not conflict. It's nobility.

That is an intriguing notion. There are needs here that drive the story and the characters. The need for the men on the tanker is obvious: survival—not only for each individual but also for their fellow sailors. The men in the boat, on their way to save the survivors of the tanker disaster, is equally obvious but a little more difficult to fathom: the need to rescue.

It's often said that a soldier fights for the man next to him, but that sentiment doesn't translate to this situation. Here, the sailors of this crew are constantly putting themselves and each other at risk in order to save a group of men they do not know. "We all live together, or we all die together," Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) shouts during a key moment of decision, when he and his crew realize that their vessel is ill-equipped for the task at hand. Those aren't empty words for him or for anyone else in that situation at that moment.

The narrative, based on a true event from 1952 (The screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson is based on the non-fiction book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias), is split into three sections. The first follows Bernie and his crew (played by Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, and John Magaro) as they make their way to the tanker without the aid of being able to radio back to their base or of a compass, which is destroyed during the rough trek over the waves formed by the bar leading from Chatham, Massachusetts, to the sea. The second focuses on Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), the tanker's engineer, as he rallies the surviving crew members together, stopping them from taking lifeboats into the violent waters and engineering a makeshift tiller to control the ship's rudder. The goal is to run the ship aground and wait for a rescue that they aren't sure is coming.

The third section involves Bernie's fiancée Miriam (Holliday Grainger), who wants and, yes, needs to do something to help her future husband but struggles to determine what actions to take. She argues with the base's commanding officer (Eric Bana), repeatedly asking that he call Bernie back home, but to no avail. She eventually winds up in the home of a woman (Rachel Brosnahan) whose husband died in a similar storm a year prior. As good as Grainger is in the role and as useful as it is to see the way this community comes together to support these men, there is an undeniable disconnect between the land-based story and what's happening on the water.

If the scenes at sea suffer from some disconnect (They do, to an extent), it's only because the screenplay and director Craig Gillespie are so dedicated to the idea that these men are operating on vital moment-to-moment decisions. There's little time to get to know these men (It is interesting to see the way that Pine and Affleck's performances complement each other, as both actors, in very different ways, play men who say no more than what needs to be said). That's fine, given the movie's purpose, but there's also little by way of helping us to understand fully what they're doing and why they're doing it.

This is a depiction of events with just enough context for us to recognize and appreciate the characters' noble intentions and heroism. The Finest Hours definitely gets that point across, but it also leaves a feeling of wanting more.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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