The stage is set at the Massachusetts coast in 1952. We follow everyone’s favorite pretty boy, Chris Pine as real-life U.S. Coast Guard hero, Bernie Webber. He goes on a double date with a cute girl named Miriam, and pretty soon they get engaged. (This is all in the trailer.) We also get to know the crew of the fishing boat, and pretty soon, it all hits the fan out there on the ocean — or more accurately, the ocean hits their boat. Hard.
They are screwed and doomed to drown, and there’s only one man who can save them… Bernie Sanders. Wait, no, Bernie Webber, and his brave, real-life Coast Guard team.
Starting with the good, Pine is a movie star, plain and simple. I thought he was hilarious in Into the Woods and he’s a great Captain Kirk — the guy just loves being captains of things. Pine carries an air of likability here too, despite not being given a whole lot of material to work with. His dialogue is very limited, which is probably faithful to Webber’s real life counterpart, but Pine makes the best of a bare script to show audiences that he can act with subtlety – awkwardness even. Don’t be surprised if you see Pine in more dramas in the future, he has the chops for it.
Pine kind of has this whole Leonardo DiCaprio thing going for him right now, starting as a hot star, then donning a few accents in search of his inner Thespian. Then again, maybe I’m just getting them confused because Titanic shares some visual similarities with The Finest Hours.
Speaking of which, my other main (and far and away biggest) praise of this movie is the visual effects sequences. I only hate on CGI when it’s used unnecessarily, and that is not the case here. The sequences involving the destruction of the Pendleton are gorgeous to look at, and the ever present stormy weather and waves serve to heighten the drama and anxiety of, “Who will survive this?” It’s a shame the characters mostly don’t deserve our interest.
Eric Bana is given nothing to do as Webber’s superior officer — I know he has chops after his wacky turn as Nero from Star Trek. I don’t remember the names of the crew members on Webber’s ship, I couldn’t tell them apart. Also, nobody on the sinking SS Pendleton acts like they are in real danger — even their leader, Casey Affleck’s character speaks in a weak whisper which is a bit hard to hear with hundred-foot waves smashing into the hull at the same time.
But the real let down is Holliday Grainger as Miriam, Webber’s landlocked fiancé. It is not so much that Grainger does a bad job playing her, it’s that the film keeps cutting to her boring life right when I’m starting to get invested in the boat crisis. It’s like Disney tested the movie for audiences, saw right when they scooted forward in their seats with interest and thought, “This is where we’ll cut away, to, um, leave them wanting more?” Whatever the intention, it doesn’t work. I didn’t pay $13 for a 3D ticket to see Miriam’s 3D tears, I came for “the most daring small boat rescue in U.S. Coast Guard History!” Webber is the only guy you’ll care about, and he says nothing and shares screen time with robots.
Those qualms aside, I mainly left the theater wondering, were they trying to rip off Steven Spielberg? The minimalist way it was shot, the subject matter and the music all added up to a photocopy of the legendary director’s aesthetic/style without getting to the heart of why his movies are great — heart.
When the music from the discount John Williams kicks in, it’s hard to feel very much. I imagined the director holding a tissue box in front of my face with an expectant look on his face like, “It’s okay, you can cry! Come on and cry already.” I wasn’t crying. I cried when I heard the beauty of “Rey’s Theme” in The Force Awakens, playing across the hall at my local Century XD movie theater — that’s real John Williams.
My intention is not to bash this movie because there are SO many movies that deserve bashing more. This is a solid biopic about a brave rescue mission, with a good performance by a popular actor. The visuals are a treat, but one that you’ll have to wait for about an hour into the film to taste.
Don’t rush to see it. I’d recommend renting The Finest Hours in a few months if you are remotely interested in boats, Coast Guard history or Chris Pine’s face — specifically drenched with water.