Review: ‘The Finest Hours’ is a Wholesome Callback to 1950s Hollywood

By January 26, 2016
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From its opening logos, it becomes clear that The Finest Hours is going to be embracing its old school setting with as much love as it can. In a large way too, it’s unabashed love for its own story is what helps to make the film work as a whole. When you speak to its star, Chris Pine, about the film as well, he’ll tell you that the reason he was so attracted to it was not only for its time setting (which he loves just as much as the film does), but also for its simplicity. That’s maybe what makes The Finest Hours so endearing of a film, is how okay it is with being itself. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In some ways, that hurts the film though, which tells the true story of a near impossible coast guard rescue mission in 1952, and the people that did the rescuing, along with the people that needed it. Set around Cape Cod in New England, the film begins with its main character, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a member of the coast guard with a guilty conscience, as he falls in love with Miriam (Holliday Grainger), a telephone operator who he took a liking to almost immediately. The relationship between Bernie and Miriam is what sets the base for everything to happen afterwards. After all, how will Bernie’s mission be tense without someone waiting for him to make it back home?

Unfortunately for the lead couple, their relationship is about to take a serious turn at probably the worst possible time, as a deadly winter storm hits the East Coast and cuts an oil tanker in half, just a few miles away from shore. Forced into a rescue mission by his commanding officer (Eric Bana), Bernie and a ragtag crew of friends and foes must try and make it through the dangerous storm long enough to save the surviving crew members on the tanker, and make it home alive.

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Pine does a suitable job as Bernie, the kind of quiet and determined young man that were a dime a dozen in the 1950s, and he brings a unique likability to Bernie, who could have been more boring than enthralling had a less charming actor taken the role. There really isn’t much about Bernie that separates him from any other movie underdogs we’ve seen throughout the years, but for The Finest Hours, he does a more-than-fine job moving the film’s story forward. His chemistry with Grainger is exciting from their first scene together, and while the opening itself does seem somewhat necessary when you’re watching it – I found myself appreciating the film’s patience the longer it went on.

Casey Affleck also stars as Ray Sybert, a quiet guy on the SS Pendleton, who is forced to take on the captain’s reigns and lead his fellow crew members in keeping the Pendleton afloat as long as they can before help arrives. Like Bernie, Sybert is a quiet and unassuming character in a lot of ways, but Affleck (one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated actors) is talented enough that even seeing Sybert walking through the tanker’s passageways can be more entertaining than watching the fellow crew members bicker and argue.

Other standouts include the always reliable Ben Foster, who resorts to using body language over dialogue to give his character depth and development (something the film greatly benefits from) and John Magaro, who has been popping up more and more in movies it seems like. His Ervin Maske is the kind of naive, likable character that when he appears onscreen – helps to liven up some of his overly-stoic cast members.

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Director Craig Gillepsie (Lars and the Real Girl, Million Dollar Arm, Fright Night) doesn’t really do much to liven up the film’s sometimes overly formulaic storyline, and while some of the special effects are impressive to behold, after awhile they become less and less interesting. There was one shot in particular that looked like a cut up version of a one take throughout the Pendleton, that gave me such a headache, I had to take off my 3D glasses. Considering basically all of the film’s 3D and special effects are well done, it’s a small complaint, but something I feel like pointing out nonetheless.

Like I said earlier though, part of The Finest Hours‘ charm is how happy it is just be itself, and Gillepsie does a good job at avoiding calling attention to himself behind the camera, a restraint that might have been more difficult for other filmmakers when dealing with this kind of material.

All in all though, The Finest Hours is a fun and admirable movie. It’s not trying to tell audiences anything they don’t already know about chasing your dreams or responsibility. Its story and characters aren’t all that memorable, and are often elevated by strong casting choices more than anything else. In the garbage bin season of Hollywood though that is January and February usually, it’s a nice way to spend your night if you have nothing else to do. It’s less of a tense rollercoaster ride, and more like a tour of an old Navy tanker you can find in coastal towns, equipped with old school Jazz and all. If that’s your kind of a thing too, then The Finest Hours might just be for you.

The Finest Hours is set to hit theatres on January 29th.

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Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable