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04 Feb 2016

Kept Afloat by the Action: A Sappy Love Story Can't Keep 'The Finest Hours' From Being a Thrilling Success

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Chris Pine in The Finest Hours. Chris Pine in The Finest Hours.

I haven’t been on a boat in many, many years. After seeing The Finest Hours, I have no need to be on a boat in many, many more years.

In 1952, an oil tanker called the Pendleton split into two during a blizzard off the coast of Cape Cod. The eight crewmembers who were in the stern perished; 33 men initially survived in the bow section of the ship.

Upon hearing news of the situation, a four-man crew boarded a smallish Coast Guard 36500 lifeboat and set out in the midst of the storm to assist the Pendleton crew.

Director Craig Gillespie has crafted an exciting movie about the sea—that is, it’s an exciting movie when the action is actually on the sea. Unfortunately, some of the stuff that happens onshore bogs down the movie in schmaltziness. That’s OK: The action sequences, and the performances during those sequences, put The Finest Hours over the top as worthy entertainment.

Chris Pine plays Bernie Webber, who captains the tiny boat tasked with saving more than 30 men. Yes, this means the guy who plays Captain Kirk gets to be called “captain” a lot during the course of this film. It’s a slight distraction, but a good one nonetheless.

As Ray Sybert, one of the unlucky fellows aboard the Pendleton, Casey Affleck is rock-solid as the man who takes charge in the face of great peril. When some crew members think it’s a good idea to board the lifeboats in the middle of gale-force winds, Sybert gives them a demonstration that renders that option moot. Affleck, one of the more underrated actors in the biz, offers the film’s best performance.

Unlike the dreadful In the Heart of the Sea that Ron Howard shat into the ocean last year, The Finest Hours packs a major, exciting action punch with a lot of water. I haven’t felt this freaked out watching people ride into slamming waves since Wolfgang Petersen tortured Clooney and Wahlberg in The Perfect Storm.

Chris Pine rides into the belly of the beast with three crewmembers played by Ben Foster, John Magaro and Kyle Gallner. All four are terrific at looking scared shitless while being drenched and bounced about. When the action covers their voyage, or Affleck struggles aboard the sinking vessel, the movie is top-notch.

Sadly, Gillespie feels the need to make this a love story, too. Holliday Grainger plays Miriam, Bernie’s new girlfriend, and her face-offs with Bernie’s commander (Eric Bana with a distracting accent) at Coast Guard HQ are tiresome stuff. Bernie and Miriam’s courtship is actually kind of sweet in the early part of the movie, but their love story becomes nothing but an unwelcomed distraction once waves start hitting Bernie’s boat.

The film looks and plays like a movie that could’ve been shot in black and white. Some of the faces in this film (especially Foster’s face) have an old-timey look; there were times when I was expecting one of the Bowery boys or Humphrey Bogart to show up and lend a hand.

Pine comes to life when his character is out at sea, but his stilted choices back onshore seem almost gimmicky. He’s very charismatic in most of his roles, yet the sheepishness he portrays on dry land feels forced and overdone. He salvages his work during the action sequences for sure, but the movie does feature some of his career-worst work at times.

If you are looking for a good sea movie with a decent love story, your best bet is still Titanic. The Finest Hours is no masterpiece, but it gets the job done. 

The Finest Hours is playing at theaters across the valley.

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