At the Movies: ‘The Finest Hours’
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
THE FINEST HOURS
Directed By Craig Gillespie
Starring Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
Disney, Rated PG-13, Action,117 minutes
A contrived drama, “The Finest Hours,” makes me wish for a documentary (perhaps from the History Channel), to depict the stunning events addressed here. It’s 1952 when the SS Pendleton oil tanker splits in two during a nor’easter off the New England coast. Eight of the ship’s 41 crew members are aboard its abruptly sunken front half, leaving 33 crewmen alive in the ship’s rudderless rear half.
The panicked men are rallied to action by Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), head of engine maintenance, who devises a course of action calculated to give them maximum, if slim odds of survival.
A cracked hull allows water to pour into the engine room faster than the pumps can remove it, leaving the crew approximately six hours to save themselves. Sybert proposes a means of steering the boat to the nearest shoal where they will strand it and wait. They’ve little choice since radio communications are lost and the rough seas are certain to smash their lifeboats — but the SS Pendleton’s six-mile proximity to the Chatham shore, gives them a chance of being rescued from the shoal.
Sadly, before we reach this juncture, we’ve been made to witness the squeaky clean romance between Coast Guard Boatswain Bernie Webber (stiffly played by Chris Pine), and his sweetheart, Miriam Pentinen (Holliday Grainger). Admittedly, Miriam is unusual. She proposes marriage to Bernie and confronts his boss, Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), about the wisdom of sending Bernie and three coworkers on the Pendleton rescue mission. Having seen her from this vantage, we know who’s gonna wear the pants in Miriam’s marriage — or do we?
While seemingly shy and mild-mannered, Bernie possesses a backbone that must have been forged by U.S. Steel. When dispatched to pilot a Coast Guard 36500 lifeboat to the presumed location of the SS Pendleton, he inspires volunteers Andrew Fitzgerald, Ervin Maske, and Richard P. Livsey, to join him. In order to reach the survivors, Bernie insists upon steering their little boat over sand bars deemed uncrossable because they magnify the already enormous waves. The film’s CGI effects portray their tiny lifeboat attempting to climb these monsters, or being submerged beneath their crests, with breathtaking credibility.
Meanwhile (“back at the ranch”), Miriam’s story continues to unfold long after it has become an unwelcome distraction. And with the exception of Affleck’s grimacing, determined Sybert, all the characters are boilerplate.
Parts of the story are gripping, but its hold on our psyches slips each time director Craig Gillespie cuts away to the town’s shore-bound inhabitants. Because the big screen is suited to showcase the 50-foot-plus waves and their jaw-dropping effects, it’s a darn shame to waste footage on melodrama.