By Adam Guy
Directed: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
Sentimentality is not a uniquely American quality, but it is one which they at times seem to embrace in a way that makes most other nations, especially us cynical Brits, more than a little nauseous.
Just seeing the Disney logo and hearing the name “The Finest Hours” is probably enough indication to know roughly what type of film you’re going to see. Heroism prevails. He gets the girl. Everyone learns a valuable lesson, and we all leave the cinema with a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside. Job done.
Based on the true story of a Cape Cod Coast Guard station where a small rescue boat was sent out during a bad storm in 1952 to search for any survivors on the sinking tanker SS Pendleton. The narrative focuses on Coast Guard Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) as he falls in love with a local girl and goes off on his heroic rescue mission. Aesthetically it’s well filmed, if a little glossy. The computer generated waves look believable and the overall feel is more consistent than it can be in films like this; where the wave size and roughness of the seas are often wildly, annoyingly inconsistent. Chris Pine plays the role of Webber with a quiet confidence and is believable, if a little too earnest. And all the rest of the cast, including Holliday Grainger as his fiancée, fit their roles well. Watching the crew of the SS Pendleton, with Casey Affleck as the ship’s engineer, argue over the best options for survival adds another element to pad out what would otherwise be a slightly simplistic plot.
There are hints of a good film in The Finest Hours, but as it’s based on a true story (with a plot that’s almost totally explained in the trailers) most people will already know the majority of what they’re likely to see before they even sit down. And when you combine this with such a safe, generic stylistic approach it becomes easy to question what the point of going to the cinema to watch it is?
The underlying rescue story is a good one and the real Bernie Webber was a brave man. Him and his crew saved 32 men with a boat designed to carry just 12. And that’s a story worth telling. But as a film it does nothing new, and there’s a difference between making a story emotionally engaging trying to win your audience over by pandering to their perceived needs with contrived, clichéd moral lessons.