Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Finest Hours: A Review


THE FINEST HOURS

I cannot fault The Finest Hours for trying to be inspirational.  I can fault it for not succeeding. The Finest Hours, based on a true story, never seems to decide what story it wants to tell or how to go about telling it.  This leads to essentially two films (sometimes three) battling for domination and never working to build a whole.  While there are good elements within The Finest Hours that might make for an entertaining couple of hours (and some genuinely good performances given the limitations of the script), it is a minor miss.

Plot One & A Half involves Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a Coast Guard member stationed in his native Massachusetts (figuring from his accent).  Chris is a very shy, hesitant man, unsure about how he can be attractive to women (despite looking like Chris Pine).  His friend/fellow Coast Guard member Gus (Beau Knapp) agrees to be part of a double date with Bernie's date, Miriam (Holliday Grainger).  Miriam and Bernie are instantly smitten, and she asks him to marry her.  At first hesitant due to his career, he agrees and being the by-the-book person he is, asks for permission from his commanding officer, Southerner Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana).  Cluff isn't popular among his men, primarily because he is from the South and has a funny accent (as opposed to those from Massachusetts, who speak without one).  Bernie then gets the go-ahead to see about the Pendleton, a ship in danger, taking his frenemy Richie (Ben Barnes), Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Garner), and Navy member Ervin Maske (John Magaro), who just happened to be there.  They are they only ones able to go.

This news upsets Miriam, who still hasn't heard whether Bernie got permission to marry.  There is also something in Bernie's past, a failed rescue, that haunts the town, haunts Bernie, and is some of the friction between Bernie and Richie.

Now we go to Plot Two of The Finest Hours.  That is on the Pendleton, where Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), the engineer, tries to keep the half of the ship he and others are in from sinking.  Some of the crew want to abandon ship, but Sybert knows that the storm will kill them on the lifeboats within seconds of getting launched.  He uses all his skill and the muscle of the crew to keep what's left of the Pendleton afloat (the ship having broken apart in the storm).  All sorts of actions are taken to keep the ship going, they hope for a rescue, the crew dislikes Sybert for some reason, and they do eventually get rescued, with only one loss. 

The ship Bernie and his crew are in can hold only 12, but they manage to rescue 32 men, and despite having no compass, they make it safe to shore.

The Finest Hours is certainly serious given the subject matter, but it also fails to give us a sense of urgency or danger about the rescue or the men on the Pendleton.  Part of the problem is that we spend quite a bit of time in the Miriam/Bernie romance to where one wouldn't be blamed for thinking the love story was THE story. 

Part of the problem also stems from the fact that Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson's adaptation of Michael Tuogias and Casey Sherman's nonfiction book throws bits that are suppose to tell us things about our figures but don't.  We keep hearing about a previous failed rescue by Bernie, but we also keep hearing he's a good man.  If he's a good man, then why does it appear the townsfolk constantly hold a grudge against him?  Richie's hostility suggests he's an antagonist, but he also appears to not be one (perhaps the very definition of frenemy).  Richie appears still bitter about the previous failed rescue, but then seems reluctantly willing to go on the rescue.

Worse is the situation on the Pendleton.  There is hostility towards Sybert, but I don't think we ever got a definitive answer as to why so many Pendleton crew members disliked him.  The closest we got was when Brown (Michael Raymond-James), the most belligerent of the crew, chides him for being 'separate' from everyone else.  Being reclusive isn't exactly cause to have the whole crew hate one, as far as I know.

A bigger part of the issue with The Finest Hours is that these disparate stories never appear to be in the same movie.  It almost seems that director Craig Gillespie made two or three films and put them together to see if he could get one in.  A whole film could have been made of the Coast Guard's rescue.  A whole film could have been made of the Pendleton crew.  A whole film could have been made of the Miriam/Bernie romance.  Somehow, these three stories never formed into one, which left the impression that each was competing with the other two.

Worse, the entire rescue of the Pendleton didn't come across as professional or even something the Coast Guard wanted to do.  Instead, it came across as almost a chore, which I figure was not the intention but was the end result. 



Not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, The Finest Hours did have some positives.  Despite the sheer limitations of the script, it's a credit that most of the actors rose far above them. A nice surprise is Chris Pine, who has been hit-and-miss onscreen.  He made the insecurity of Bernie with Miriam quite believable (even more so given that someone who looks like Chris Pine would have little to no problem attracting anyone).  I don't know Grainger all that well (though she has appeared in films I've seen).  However, she was simply excellent as Miriam, who loves her man but who won't allow even his commanding officer to put her man in danger (at least without a fight).  Maybe women and seamen don't mix, but I hope Grainger gets more and better parts that befit her talent.

I sometimes forget how good Bana can be (especially since a.) he started out as a comic in Australia and b.) he tried to be the Hulk).  I found his Southern accent quite believable and while again his role was limited I think he too did far better than the role.  I'm more Casey Affleck than his brother Ben in terms of acting, and The Finest Hours is yet another strong performance (though his stoic figure is the type he can do in his sleep, and sometimes it looked as if he was). 

While sometimes the visuals of them passing through the stormy seas at times were almost gruesome, they also were effective in their overall appearance.

The Finest Hours could have been a great story, one of courage and strength under extremely difficult circumstances.  This story deserves better than what we ended up, which was respectable but stilted and a bit lifeless.  The actors did what they could with what they got and made it tolerable.  However, despite their best efforts, this film will not be considered their finest hours.  

DECISION: C-

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