On the night of Feb. 18, 1952, a T-2 oil tanker en route from New Orleans to Boston was ripped in half by a major storm system, leaving more than 30 men trapped inside the rapidly-sinking stern and igniting a chain of events that culminated with the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard. This unforgettable story serves as the backdrop for “The Finest Hours,” an action-thriller that intrigues audiences with its compelling premise, but ultimately falls flat and fails to redeem itself.
Based on Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias’ 2009 book of the same name, the film follows coxswain Bernard “Bernie” Webber (Chris Pine) as he juggles working at the Coast Guard’s Chatham, Massachusetts station and preparing to marry headstrong financée Miriam Pentinen (Holliday Grainger).
When the fallout from a massive nor’easter leaves the crew of the S.S. Pendleton stranded at sea, Webber joins a four-man team focused on searching for survivors while chief engineer Raymond Sybert (Casey Affleck) struggles to keep the floundering wreckage afloat. Little do they know they are about to embark on a journey that promises to test them in ways they never imagined.
From a distance, “The Finest Hours” is a film that epitomizes the strength of the human spirit while pitting ordinary men against seemingly insurmountable odds. But while the dizzying maritime action sequences leave viewers in a perpetual state of suspense, the narrative as a whole can be described in one word: cumbersome.
Viewers looking for a film that lives up to its high expectations will sadly get an entirely opposite experience. The underwritten plot relies on an overabundance of tried-and-true tropes — be it an unanswered telephone call foreshadowing bad news or an overly theatrical monologue revolving around a poorly-constructed argument — while director Craig Gillespie’s reliance on computer-generated imagery betrays the image he struggles to grasp and only succeeds in putting audiences to sleep.
Adding further insult to injury, seeing “The Finest Hours” in RealD 3-D is a complete waste of the extra $2 theaters applied to tickets. That money would be better spent at the concessions stand. It almost feels as though Disney made the decision to present the film in 3-D at the last minute and didn’t bother to think things through.
Even after all these criticisms, there remains very little to enjoy about the film. Pine and Affleck both deliver performances that are easily forgettable, not even trying to tease out something deeper about their respective characters. Grainger, who achieved international recognition last year after portraying Anastasia Tremaine in Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella,” tries to make audiences understand her character’s behavior, but ultimately fails because her story has no stakes whatsoever.
The members of the supporting cast, meanwhile, are largely limited to either standing in the background and staring into space or trying to keep the halved Pendleton from flooding. The only interesting character is cook Tiny Meyers (Abraham Benrubi), who sings “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” to the annoyance of his fellow crewmembers and to the delight of the older audience members.
The only other compliment one can give is a sequence that takes place near the film’s midpoint, where orders are relayed from one survivor to another through what remains of the Pendleton. This is the only moment in the entire film where viewers can literally feel the tension in the air, serving as respite from everything else happening in the film.
A jumbled mess from start to finish, “The Finest Hours” is a movie that, quite simply, should have never been made. The final product completely missed the mark and doesn’t even try to stand out, making it difficult to have any sympathy for the characters. While it is true that the S.S. Pendleton rescue is a truly inspiring tale that should continue to be told, the big screen is not the place to immortalize such a story.
With this in mind, it seems appropriate to award this film zero stars out of five and hope that the same mistake is not made twice.