Film: “The Finest Hours”; Director: Craig Gillespie; Cast: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz and Eric Bana; Rating: ***
With the tempest sea, howling winds and weather-beaten terrain as the backdrop, “The Finest Hours” is a fascinating rescue drama inspired by real-life incidents with a romance sub-plot. It is narrated in a benevolent, old-fashioned and typical “happy ending” Disney-style.
It is an epic story of four courageous men who went out into the freezing Atlantic, off the coast of Chatham in Massachusetts, US, to rescue the 32 crew members of an oil tanker that split into two during one of the biggest storms to hit the east coast in February 1952.
The narration pivots around Skipper Bernie Webber, who follows his by-the-book Station Master Daniel Cluff’s instructions and agrees to undertake what his peers assume is a suicidal mission.
With time, weather and equipment not on their side, Bernie and his three-man team head out to sea, determined to see their job done. On the other hand, Bernie’s fiance Miriam does everything in her power to help with the cause and make sure her future husband returns safely back to Chatham.
The performance by the ensemble cast is placid. Chris Pine as the ‘Good Man’ Bernie Webber along with Casey Affleck, as the assistant engineer Ray Sybert who struggles to keep the remaining half of the Pendleton afloat have near similar roles of the reluctant hero. They display the fine quality of endurance and perseverance with subtle poise.
Holliday Grainger, as Bernie’s worried and desperate girlfriend Miriam, “the one who wears the pants in the relationship”, is charming. She is not only fascinating, but also intriguing in her demeanour.
The rest of the cast that includes Eric Bana as the Station Master Daniel Cluff; Ben Foster as the hardened Seaman Richard Livesey who suffers an arm fracture; and Graham McTavish as Webbers mate on the rescue boat, despite good performances in one-dimensional characters, are wasted.
Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe’s lenses are spellbinding. They capture the intimidating winter storm, the snowladen landscape and the emotions, giving an immersive feel to the frames. The unsaturated colour palette that he uses, gives the visuals Eastman colour tones that help recreate the era to perfection. The effective computer generated images that merge seamlessly into the narration and the 3D effects elevate the viewing experience.
The screenplay, written by Eric Johnson, Scott Silver and Paul Tamsay, is crisp, but relies heavily on the inspirational true story narrative conventions. It fails to make the tropes of its classic storytelling form, seem fresh or inventive. In fact, their work feels as if it has missed the opportunity of representing a story that could have really produced an exceptional piece of fiction.
Director Craig Gillespie has effectively recreated the terrifying battle for survival with admirable craftsmanship. The film comes to life the most during the sequences that are set aboard either on the fragmented Pendleton or Webber’s rescue boat.
Gillespie manages to consistently engage the audience with naturally tense moments, and hits just the right amount of sensitive beats to make the harrowing rescue mission all the more heart-rending in the end. Unfortunately, it is this emotional connection though, that seems unreal and synthetic.
Nevertheless, ‘The Finest Hours,’ is a film that is worth a watch.