Movie Review – The Finest Hours (2016)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Stars: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Kyle Gallner, Ben Ortiz, John Magaro, Graham McTavish, Michael Raymond-James, Beau Knapp

In February of 1952, one of the worst storms hit the coast of New England, splitting an oil tanker in two. Four men from the coastguard take a treacherous journey out across the waves in the hopes of saving the 30 men, who are facing their own battle of trying to survive on a rapidly sinking ship.

The Finest Hours is a film that focuses on the determination to survive against insurmountable odds. It’s based on a true story (although the film is based on a book about the events), and the efforts of these men are inspiring. The film is largely split into two stories, Bernie Webber (Pine) who takes his crew out on a boat, hoping to not get torn to pieces by the violent waters leading out to sea, and Seabird (Affleck), the engineer who is learning to become a leader while those around him squabble about how to survive. The story on the sinking ship is far more action packed and brutal. Webber’s story is more about a man trying to make up for a similar event the previous year that ended in tragedy. He is a soft-spoken man that follows the book, and doesn’t cut an inspiring figure at all. The parallels between the two characters are interesting as it both shows them trying to convince people to follow them, although Seabird shows more ingenuity and Webber just a strong determination not to let the sea defeat him.

But what would a disaster film be without the anguish of those left at home? Webber has just been dating Miriam (Grainger), a spirited woman who fears for Webber’s life when she finds out that he has gone out in the storm. The rest of the coastguard are worried as well, including the senior officer Daniel Cluff (Bana) who seems inexperienced, and others question his orders.

I like the theme of survival and I enjoyed the direction of this film a great deal. I feel like it’s paced well and there’s a good build-up of tension throughout the film. The visuals of seeing a ship break apart are simply phenomenal, and the atmosphere of dread permeates through the screen, aided by the 3D effects. Some of Webber’s journey does become repetitive but the visceral scenes of the boat being tossed about the water are enthralling so I can forgive it that.

The conflict between characters, on land at least, is mostly subdued. There are people who hold grudges against Webber for his part in the tragedy of the previous year, and there seems to be a lack of respect for Cluff as well. But the film does not spend too long in developing these characters. To be fair it does boast a large cast, but many of the characters are thinly written and it’s a testament to the actors that they are imbued with any personality at all. Miriam is a case in point, most of the film follows her simply worrying about Webber and there’s not much depth to her character other than that she cares about him, but the actress makes it work.

The Finest Hours is a film that is based around the set-pieces rather than the characters, and in this criteria I found it to be an enjoyable film. The visuals are impressive and sometimes shocking, and the tension of the rescue attempt is palpable. I think it’s probably going to get lost in the shuffle of all the Oscar-nominated films, and I don’t think that the romance is strong enough for this to be a Valentine’s Day date, but it’s a solid film and if you like dramatic survival stories then this should be one you check out.

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