Late January and February are traditionally the dumping ground for awful films. Imagine a giant metaphoric city dump filled not with actual garbage, but instead with bad horror films, lackluster action movies, and unrommy and uncommy romcoms. There are exceptions of course. The Silence of the Lambs was released in February of 1991 and managed to win a ton of Oscars the next year. The Finest Hours is not on the same level as The Silence of the Lambs, I doubt anyone will be talking about it come awards season in late 2016 and early 2017, but it’s a solid rescue drama with some good to great performances, impressive special effects, and a compelling story.
The Finest Hours tells the real life story of one of the most dangerous Coast Guard rescues in history. The star of this picture is Chris Pine (Star Trek, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) playing against type-ish. We’ve all come to know him now as the swaggering, cocky, and heroic James T. Kirk. In The Finest Hours, Pine’s Bernie Webber is reserved and unsure. A man with a complicated past who has lost his nerve. On the flip side of this we have Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), an engineer on the SS Pendleton. When the Pendleton splits in half, Affleck’s character takes charge with a bold plan that might save them. Affleck is terrific in this film as the taciturn, intense leader of the sailors. He’s got a great quiet, take charge kind of moment that is reminiscent of the way Robert Shaw takes over a room in Jaws. These two leading performances play well off of each other and really anchor the movie (sorry for the pun).
The film follows the two men through the night as they do their work. Pine’s character is tasked by his boss, played by Eric Bana, to go out into the stormy water to try to rescue the men on the Pendleton. Meanwhile, Affleck and his crew work to make their situation manageable long enough to wait out a rescue that may or may not come. There are some strong supporting performances as well, in particular Ben Foster. Foster has proven himself in films like Kill Your Darlings, Lone Survivor, and 3:10 to Yuma to be quite adept at taking on small characters and making them feel meaningful. Eric Bana is also pretty good in the film, but he’s doing something with his accent that is awfully distracting. I think he’s supposed to be from the South, but it’s hard to tell. All the other characters are doing variations on a Boston accent, but for the most part these are subdued and, to a non-New Englander, seem pretty authentic. Bana, not so much. The film even makes mention of how terrible his accent is, which only makes it worse.
If the film has a true weakness (it does) it’s in the love story. Pine’s character has fallen in love with a woman played by Holliday Grainger (Jane Eyre, Cinderella). The film uses their love story as a way to further illustrate Pine’s confidence problems (he’s not terribly confident with Grainger’s character, she asks him to marry her *gasp!*, etc…). It doesn’t really work, or at least it didn’t for me. The way the film sets up Pine’s lack of self confidence in the romance and then carries it over into his work feels very easy and kind of tacked on. Grainger is fine in her role, but she’s given very little to do other than look worried, so I never really connected with her either. These parts of the film ended up feeling like a weird mash up between Pearl Harbor and The Perfect Storm.
Luckily we spend most of our time in the second half of the film out on the water with Pine and his crew or on the Pendleton with Affleck and his sailors. The film really cooks in these sections, whether it’s Pine trying to get his small rescue boat out past the bar (or the “bahhhr”) or Affleck and his crew trying to figure out how to steer the back half of an oil rig—the film is intense and suspenseful. The visual effects are also top notch. Unfortunately, I had to see the film in 3-D, which I would strongly discourage for this film. One of the downsides to 3-D is that the glasses make everything darker. This film takes place almost entirely at night either out on the water with no lights or in a very dark and shadowy boat. Not a good combination with 3-D glasses.
Aside from the love story element, the script is pretty sold as well. There’s a lived in quality to characters and the world around them I liked quite a bit. It’s clear that all of these characters had lives before the film began and that there’s a world out there beyond the frame of the film. Past events have an effect on what is happening in the present, but the film doesn’t hold your hand to spell out exactly what those events are. References are made, intimations intimated, but nothing is particularly telegraphed. There’s a subtlety at work here that is kind of refreshing, especially from a Disney movie. The film also doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to some of the technical boat stuff. Things like the aforementioned bar. I don’t know what the bar is or why it’s causing them such trouble, but the film makes clear that it’s this thing they have to get past and that’s going to be SUPER hard. It doesn’t stop the narrative to explain and it doesn’t need to.
I’d like to come back to Pine and Affleck for a moment. Pine does a fine job in this film. His character’s arc is compelling and his performance works for the most part. It’s nice to see him play someone who is so unsure of himself, so willing to take the brunt of other’s insults. He plays the part with a cowed kind of humility. Watching him overcome that is nice. Weirdly, the film equates defying orders with gaining self-confidence, which is kind of strange, but I guess that’s a nitpick. Affleck is the real star here. He’s totally believable, and pretty bad-ass, as this engineer character. Affleck’s never really been much of a star. He’s had some great roles and in some pretty big films, but he’s never really broken out the way his brother has. That may or may not change here. It depends on how much this film connects with audiences. I can’t wait to see him in bigger, meatier roles like this, although I suspect he’s not one to take on the next Armageddon or Pearl Harbor.
Overall, I’d say that The Finest Hours is a solid picture. Definitely the kind of film you can take your parents or kids to, should you be so inclined. This time of year can feel like the doldrums. If you’re caught up on all your Oscar fare (or are uninterested in that kind of thing), The Finest Hours will be a nice respite from the other crap being released right now (I’m looking at you Ride Along 2 and The Boy).