THE FINEST HOURS is as middling as films come, consistently engaging, but never quite hitting the thrilling heights that it could have with a tighter pace and a shorter running time. The film has the same struggle as many other dramas that have been “Based on a True Story.” Real life, even in phenomenal circumstances such as these, rarely plays out in a typical 3-act structure, with action rising into a climax, immediately followed by a satisfying conclusion. The upside, of course, is that a weight and legitimacy is added to the proceedings that you don’t get from pure fiction. THE FINEST HOURS benefits from this, but is hampered by a soggy third act, in which the tension deflates as slowly as the second act climax was built up. Action become repetitive, and then the film literally moves into slow motion as even the protagonists just seem tired and done with it all. This is meant to be played as a final beat of terror. What if our heroes are just too cold and tired to finish their journey to safety? But instead, it just leaves the audience feeling as cold and exhausted as the characters.
But what about those characters? Casey Affleck is the film’s brightest star as Ray, a brilliant but soft spoken mechanic who has the spotlight of leadership thrust upon him when his oil tanker snaps in two. The film’s primary protagonist, Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber, is underplayed by a surprisingly earnest Chris Pine. This works well, as Webber’s hero arc focuses on his lack of agency. Holliday Grainger, previously seen as an evil stepsister in Kenneth Branagh’s CINDERELLA reboot, is shockingly tolerable in a role that could have come across as shrill and demanding. As the most proactive of the film’s heroes, she nonetheless maintains a level of measured soft-spokenness that just keeps her on the charming spectrum, despite the fact that her character is attempting to undermine all the fun of her love’s suicide mission.
The visual effects are serviceable, though the raging seas are scarier than they would be because you know a real Bernie Webber faced them. While the digital waves sometimes edge close to feeling cartoony, I can’t help but feel bad for the VFX house that had to build the entire environment from scratch, and Director Craig Gillepsie, who clearly had no options to shoot it practically. I will laud my cohorts at LEGEND 3D for fleshing out the world in a flawlessly immersive stereo conversion. The nightmare of snow and rain that the heroes face is overwhelmingly more immersive than it would have been without the extra dimension to sell the danger.
THE FINEST HOURS is a solid if unremarkable, movie which seems like it was made specifically with my mother’s demographic in mind. Fans of old-fashioned heroism and true life disasters will find a lot to like here. For everyone else, the film is worth a look but is definitely skippable.