“This is another by-the-numbers Disney film”

by Steve Pulaski

While The Finest Hours is by no means the dreary, ostensibly never-ending mess that was last month’s In the Heart of the Sea, it’s by no means even close to matching the quality of The Perfect Storm, one of the best swashbuckling films of recent time. This is another by-the-numbers Disney film, that turns an incredible true story into a series of shortchanged and theatrical instances of peril that has numerous studio executives crossing their fingers, hoping it will somehow lumber its way to be a huge financial hit in a season when few films of more than average quality are out.

If all of Disney’s eggs are in The Finest Hours‘s basket, as I’m sure they aren’t but just for the sake of argument, then it simply shows what this time of the year really does to Hollywood. There’s nothing fundamentally nor glaringly wrong with The Finest Hours other than it’s a painfully average, uninteresting slog that does so very little to assure any kind of practical methods were taken to really get to the heart of the helpless characters and those brave enough to embark on what seemed like nothing more than a suicide mission.

The film revolves around Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a member of the Coast Guard stationed in Massachusetts on Cape Cod. Bernie’s duties are pretty laid-back, until the same day he plans to ask his commander Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) for permission to marry Miriam (Holliday Grainger), the girl of his dreams, he is ordered to guide a lifeboat and a small crew to rescue the S.S. Pendleton. The gigantic ship has just broken in half after getting caught in a violent nor’easter off the coast of Cape Cod, and Bernie and his three-men crew have to figure out a way to track down the ship and rescue as many or all of its thirty-two passengers.

The Finest Hours
Directed by
Craig Gillespie
Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster
Release Date
29 January 2016
Steve’s Grade: D+

This is exactly the kind of remarkable story that we would be calling implausible had it not been based on a true story (same goes for films like Argo and even Trumbo), and because of that, it’s a film that was ostensibly going to be a bit alienating from the start. The reason being is that when you have a film telling this extraordinary of a story, if you don’t make the film about the characters, or at least confine the setting and the focus where it appeals to basic human emotions and practices, such as connection and survival, it’s going to feel cold and empty. The Finest Hours doesn’t go for the survivalist route of All is Lost, showing its characters at their most helpless and hopeless, nor does it opt for spectacle as it revolves around two developed characters like in The Perfect Storm.

What’s left for The Finest Hours to do is produce a simple, well-shot action film that does a good job at giving us a chronological timeline of the Coast Guard/Pendleton rescue back in 1952, but nothing else. There’s no staying power thanks to thin characters, and there’s few enticing or memorable action sequences because we’re too often cutting back and forth between what is occurring on the water and Miriam’s constant worrying over her husband (in yet another vague and almost entirely worthless female role), providing for desperately little continuity.

The film was directed by Craig Gillespie, who seems to be one of Disney’s go-to directors for basic live-action entertainment that makes caricatures out of characters and makes the factual seem like the overblown (Gillespie also directed Million Dollar Arm, another almost instantly forgettable film). In a month when films have ranged from the average to the barely tolerable, perhaps it would’ve been better for The Finest Hours to downright suck because it would’ve given me a better, more exciting review to write and a funnier, more relevant review for you, dear reader. Instead, I feel, much like a captain of a ship when all is going well, on auto-pilot as I reflect on a film that is about as easy to dismiss and forget as a wrong number.