The Finest Hours film review: a based-on-a-true-story nautical nailbiter
The Finest Hours is a far from being a perfect movie. But it doesn't mean it's not good.
Nevertheless, it recounts a remarkable story of one of the most incredible Coast Guard rescues in history. It will remind you of The Perfect Storm - a George Clooney film from 15 years ago: Both are Massachusetts-set movies following a group of ordinary men in survival mode on the high seas as a huge Nor'easter hits.
A respectable nautical nailbiter
Set off the coast of New England, Craig Gillespie's film recounts the events of 18 February, 1952 when a severe storm arose with such force that two oil tankers - the SS Fort Mercer and the SS Pendleton - were both literally split in half. While the Fort Mercer was able to get off distress signals and attract help, the splitting of the Pendleton resulted in the sinking of its front section and the loss of its commanding officers and radios.
The US Coast Guard, undermanned at the time because of another rescue operation, decides to send four men out a 36-footer to reach the open ocean, locate the Pendleton, and affect a rescue.
It's a suicide rescue (as the trailer reminds you 3 times).
There's no doubt this makes for a gripping movie, despite occasional missteps, and the screenplay finds the balance between following the Pendleton crew's attempts to survive and telling the story of the four Coast Guard rescuers: Bernie Webber (a rare swagger-free Chris Pine), Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin Maske (John Magaro).
Locals, concerned about the above four, suggest that Bernie should just circle the boat around the shore and lie to his superiors (it's a suicide mission after all).
Plus, Bernie's got a sweetheart - Miriam (Holliday Grainger) that he wants to stay safe for.
Meanwhile, there's the ripped-in-half Pendleton, full of grunts and creaks, trying to stay above water while waiting for rescue. This story's fronted by first assistant engineer Ray Sybart (Casey Affleck), who's been left to lead after the captain dies.
Keeping the film afloat
Chris Pine's performance as the socially awkward, shy Bernie gives the movie an anchor and the viewer a rooting interest. His fixation to be a rule-abiding fella is just a little off-putting occasionally but you know that this is a man who'll get the job done.
Or die trying.
He's matched by Affleck, whose Ray Sybert is afflicted with a similar personality. And even with a more traditional leading man co-anchoring the story and serving as its protagonist, Affleck commands the screen with his steely resolve.
Eric Bana has a supporting role as Bernie's unsympathetic, ill-prepared commander and is barely utilised in the whole film.
A well-crafted disaster drama
The script is a mix of the new and old. The least effective storytelling elements are the most heavily fictionalised ones (the stuff on shore basically).
But the real star of his movie is the ocean and its CGI waves - particularly the ones crashing around the sandbar Bernie's rescue boat has to navigate its way over. This is the film's most impressive sequence; not only from a technical standpoint, but also because of the number of times the ensemble has to repeat the word "bar" ("Thuh BAHHH"), a crucial test of their newly-acquired Cape Cod accents.
But you'll feel the motion of the a relentless and terrifying sea, especially in long shots of Bernie's boat as it's beaten by breaks. However, save for a few reliably impressive shots of massive waves, the dim 3D adds very little.
The score by Carter Burwell perfectly complements the visuals to induce some more heart-hammering.
The Finest Hours is all about action, suspense and tension - it rarely lets its audience down on any of those accounts. But it's still a strictly procedural film and doesn't exactly break new ground.
But it's at least 10 times more fun than Ron Howard's recent high seas drama - In the Heart of the Sea.