Review: Not enough drama, suspense in 'The Finest Hours'
The problem with "The Finest Hours" starts with the title. If you know the movie is about a perilous boat rescue and it's called "The Finest Hours," it robs any ounce of suspense that might be achieved during all of the roiling seas and ocean thrashing that follows — those guys are probably going to pull off that rescue.
Unfortunately bogged down by its own generic conventions, coupled with a bland script, "The Finest Hours" doesn't achieve the tension that it should for this incredible true story of a 1952 Cape Cod small boat rescue. In fact, your interest might be more piqued when the credits roll, when photographs of the real people are juxtaposed with their Hollywood counterparts, because it's something different and interesting.
And what Hollywood counterparts they are. Chris Pine takes on the aw-shucks role of Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber, who's written as the straightest, most guileless arrow that could be. Representing Boston is Casey Affleck, who plays Ray Sybert, the engine master of the oil tanker battling stormy seas. (The Massachusetts accents are laid on so thick, it's a shock that a Wahlberg doesn't pop up.) There's a lot of hemming and hawing, but we all know that Webber's going to go save Sybert and his men. Everything in the script is telegraphed from miles away, which is another way this movie drains itself of tension.
The cast is stacked with talent — Eric Bana, Ben Foster, and up and comers like Kyle Gallner and John Magaro. Unfortunately, they just aren't given all that much to do, except stretch their vowels and squint into driving rain. The crew aboard the tanker gets a passing characterization — this one sings, that one's mean, this one's old — but mostly they dodge flying boat parts and shout about how many degrees to turn the tanker. It becomes hard to distinguish all the different soaking wet white men from each other.
Aside from bungling the characterization, the film continually misplaces its sense of import: a mild fender bender is treated with far higher dramatics than things like the oil tanker splitting in half.
The true breakout star of "The Finest Hours" is Holliday Grainger, a British actress who lights up the screen like a lighthouse (she becomes, quite literally, a port in a storm). She plays feisty Miriam, Webber's fiancee, a girl who doesn't follow any rules, while he follows all of them. Grainger is luminous and lovely, even though she is saddled with a role that's essentially a widow's walk: fretting and worrying on land, waiting for her man to return.
The last 30 minutes of "The Finest Hours," are the best, and the film truly outpaces itself in its third act, which has some genuine affect and emotion, Carter Burwell's score wringing tears out of thin air like so many salty seawater raindrops.
But the first two-thirds are entirely predictable and therefore dull. It feels like a parody of a prestige film, like one of the fake Oscar trailers in "Tropic Thunder."
"Someone's gotta go save those guys!" Navy man Ervin (Magaro) chirps, as if it's a huge revelation. It's a very standard heroism story, in which a bunch of white guys save another bunch of white guys (OK, there are two minorities). It would be easy to call it old-fashioned, but classical Hollywood flicks were more entertaining than this damp tale.
'THE FINEST HOURS'
2 stars out of 4
Cast: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger, Eric Bana, Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril.