Chris Pine leads a daring and spectacular rescue mission to save Casey Affleck and his crew in this 1950s storm caper.The trailer for The Finest Hours gives you a pretty clear picture of what the film is: in 1951 during horrendous weather conditions in Massachusetts a big oil tanker is torn in two, leaving its crew stranded and sinking. A brave coastguardsman is sent out to try and rescue them against all odds. I know what you’re thinking – I’ve seen this before. But bear with me, because The Finest Hours is everything you wanted The Perfect Storm to be, but with the added bonus of some 1950s nostalgia thrown in.Chris Pine plays Bernie Webber, an almost frustratingly stoic crewman for the Chatham coastguard with an apparently indestructible hairstyle. The film begins slowly, depicting the burgeoning romance between Bernie and Miriam (Holliday Grainger). Admittedly, their relationship – heart-warming and beautiful as it is – doesn’t really have too much bearing on the main events of the plot, and the gentle opening doesn’t give much indication of the spectacular action sequences to follow.
A terrible storm hits the Massachusetts coastline, splitting two oil tankers in half. Aboard one of them is Casey Affleck’s Ray Sybert, a quiet and serious engineer who is forced to take control as his ship starts to sink. Although there are a lot of quality actors and good performances among the supporting cast (Ben Foster as Bernie’s disgruntled crewmate, Josh Stewart as Sybert’s right-hand man, Eric Bana as the antagonist coastguard commander), none of the characters outside Bernie, Sybert and Miriam get any real screen-time or development.
Bernie is sent out with a three-man crew in a tiny boat to try and rescue the men on the oil tanker, even though everyone in Chatham thinks it’s a one-way journey - as Bernie says sombrely, “They say you gotta go out, they don’t say you gotta come back in”. Encountering huge waves, choppy water, a failing engine and a lost compass, it does seem unlikely that they will come back in, but the small crew are determined to navigate past the infamous “bar” (a shoal) and get out into the open water to find the stricken crew.
While some of the scenes on land suffer from slow pacing and sometimes clunky dialogue, Craig Gillespie’s film really comes into its own at sea. The scenes in the water (the vast majority of the film) are spectacular, and the effects elevate this to be more than just another adventure caper. Terrific set pieces and at times stunning cinematography from Javier Aguirresarobe keep the narrative flowing as fast as the waves battering Bernie’s tiny rescue boat.
The scenes in the water (the vast majority of the film) are spectacular, and the effects elevate this to be more than just another adventure caper.
As great as the effects are, this film is all about the lead performances, and all three are superb. Both Pine’s reticent and timid Bernie and Affleck’s gruff Sybert are reminiscent of classic 1950s heroes (think Brando in On the Waterfront). In a movie where the visuals are so important, the inclusion of two characters who aren’t talking a-mile-a-minute is a smart move.
Although Pine is ostensibly the lead actor here, Affleck manages to steal the show (like in most of his movies); even with a character who basically only talks about his boat and how it’s sinking, Affleck is likeable, gruff, strong and charismatic. Grainger shines as Miriam, and channels every classic Hollywood actress ever in her engaging supporting role. In fact she’s so good that it sort of makes the slow, romantic opening seem worthwhile – by the end you want to have seen more of her.
What was in danger of being a run-of-the-mill action film is enhanced by some great visual effects and engaging performances; this is an entertaining adventure caper full of nostalgia for classic Hollywood movies that takes full advantage of the impressive techniques and effects available to today's Hollywood filmmakers.
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