The Finest Hours, based on the true story of the valiant 1952 Coast Guard rescue of a sinking oil tanker off the coast of Massachusetts, splits in two much like the wounded vessel at its heart.
There’s the film that’s set on the sea, and much of that is terrific, even if it brings to mind A Perfect Storm. And then there’s the film set on land, and that one runs aground.
Chris Pine is Bernie Webber, a young Coast Guardsman whose daily routine is upended when he’s tasked with heading up a team to save the 30-plus crew from the Pendleton, a wreck drifting in the storm-tossed waters during a vicious winter nor’easter.
Webber and his equally young cohorts — Richard (Ben Foster), Andy (Kyle Gallner, American Sniper) and Ervin (John Magaro, The Big Short) — are the JV squad as the more seasoned sailors have already left to help another ship in distress. But their commanding officer (Eric Bana, whose Southern accent is nearly as much of a disaster as the Pendleton) has no choice but to send them out.
Meanwhile, aboard the Pendleton, the captain and much of the crew have been killed, and it’s up to reclusive but knowledgeable chief engineer Ray Sybert (a good Casey Affleck) to take command of what’s left and try to keep everyone alive until help arrives.
These scenes provide the film with its most suspenseful and rewarding moments and seem to be the ones in which director Craig Gillespie shows the most inspiration.
One sequence, in which orders are being quickly relayed from one crew member to another through the bowels of the ship, is a symphony of movement and tension. The rescue is satisfying — the twin stories of the rescuers and the rescued make for thrilling mirrors of each other.
Yet those stories are interrupted to go back to town, where Webber’s headstrong fiancée, Miriam (Holliday Grainger, The Borgias), waits anxiously for him to return. This is where The Finest Hours bogs down; the romantic element is the film’s weakest. The one upside here is Rachel Brosnahan (from the Manhattan TV series) as a woman whose sailor husband died in a similar storm years earlier.
Back at sea, Foster, one of the best actors around, is underused and doesn’t have much to do. The focus remains on Pine, who’s rather stiff, especially in his scenes with Grainger before he heads out on the mission. There might be similarities in these segments to the ’50s charm of Brooklyn, but there is little of the romantic electricity of that film.
Gillespie and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe plunge the viewer into the heart of the storm, and many of the scenes in town glow as if shot through a scrim of nostalgia and memory. Still, some of the ocean effects and CGI are not as convincing as others, and the 3D doesn’t add anything. The same goes for the Boston accents, which are notoriously difficult for actors to handle without lapsing into parody.
Ultimately, The Finest Hours doesn’t sink, but it can’t avoid its own choppy cinematic waters, either.
‘The Finest Hours’
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril. 1:57. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.