The Finest Hours Feels Waterlogged
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2016 28 Jan
DVD Release Date: May 24, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: January 29, 2016
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of peril)
Run Time: 117 min.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
Movies set largely on the water—disaster movies or otherwise—often have their own disastrous-production stories.
Director Steven Spielberg vowed never to film another movie set on the water after he made Jaws. Despite his difficulty completing the film on time and on budget, Jaws went on to establish and define the summer blockbuster. Fourteen years later, director James Cameron put his actors through arduous underwater filming on The Abyss, then shored up his reputation as a zealous perfectionist during the making of Titanic. The latter film experienced repeated logistical delays and arrived at theaters plagued by months of troubled-production stories, but Titanic went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time.
Other water-dominated productions haven't turned out as well. Kevin Reynolds, director of Waterworld, blamed that film's out-of-control budget on logistical problems associated with transporting extras across water on boats. Waterworld is still thought of as a mega-bomb, even though it wasn't the financial flop its lingering reputation suggests.
As recently as late 2015, the Ron Howard-directed In the Heart of Sea—a true tale of whalers that served as the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick—became another big-budget sea-set story to meet audience indifference. To date In the Heart of the Sea has brought in $24.5 million in North America against a $100 million budget (softened by $65.5 million overseas, but still a big money-loser).
Adding to Howard's film, which is still lingering in a few theaters, is Disney's The Finest Hours, the story of a small-boat National Guard rescue attempt of stranded oil-tanker workers off the coast of Cape Cod. Set in 1952, the film has an old-fashioned quality to its storytelling, pace and exultation of bravery in the face of danger. But a listless script and creaky structure are too much to overcome, despite game performances from Chris Pine and Holliday Grainger in the lead roles.
The historical events should have made for a better film. A nor'easter hits the Eastern seaboard and damages oil tanker SS Pendleton—on its way to Boston—so severely that it tears the rig in two. With more than 30 men stranded in the sinking stern, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (a very low-key Casey Affleck, Interstellar) tries to take charge of the chaotic crew. He faces down those who have little respect for Sybert and his decision-making.
Back on shore in Chatham, Mass., Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Pine, Into the Woods) is facing his own skeptics. He's still wrestling with the memory of a failed boat rescue that resulted in the deaths of eight men, which one local won't let Webber put behind him. Will Webber be able to get his rescue boat over the breaks this time and to the oil-rig workers awaiting help? And if so, will anyone still be alive to be rescued?
Though based on a real incident, the story and characters in The Finest Hours are overly familiar at best, clichés or cardboard cutouts at worst. The visuals aren't much better. Other than a shot revealing the horrific extent of the damaged oil rig, the film's stormy sea images, despite the money and CGI that went into them, are by now routine: the massive swells, a boat that's nearly capsized more than once, seawater gushing into a sinking vessel. When the human stakes are at their highest, The Finest Hours feels rote. Their situation is dire and we want everyone to be saved, of course. But the characters have been sketched too thinly for us to have much personal investment in them as individuals.
Better is the film's opening stretch laying out a romance between Webber and Miriam (Grainger, Cinderella). The two fall in love and get engaged before the rescue mission. But after establishing Miriam as a strong woman, the film relegates her mostly to the stock role of a woman-in-waiting, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. Miriam does end up playing a key role in the finale, which turns out to be more moving than the movie-in-total has earned. But The Finest Hours has, by that point, failed to hit most of its emotional beats, making the conclusion feel less like a heartwarming capper to a tale of human courage and more like an overdue ending to a movie that never generates pathos equal to the scale of the disaster it depicts.
There's a virtuous, life-affirming story to be told about these events. But the men who organized the rescue mission and the men who were saved all deserved better than this waterlogged recounting of what happened to them. Whatever challenges the filmmakers encountered during the making of The Finest Hours surely pale in comparison to the failures in the script, which prove impossible to overcome.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; "d-mn"; "cut off your b-lls"
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: Drinking at a restaurant
- Sex/Nudity: A kiss
- Violence/Crime: The death of several men during a failed rescue mission earlier is discussed; rough seas damage a ship and its sailors; a fatal head blow
- Religion/Morals/Marriage: Bernie and Miriam get engaged just before Bernie sets out to rescue the stranded men; people pray for the men on the tanker; prayer is said to be "great, but it ain't everything"
Publication date: January 28, 2016