From The Perfect Storm fifteen years ago, to last month’s In the Heart of the Sea, seafaring epic rescue mission movies have pretty much covered all possible ground in the genre.
It’s almost always the same template of narrative. There’s a ragtag bunch of crew members set in the most trying circumstance with waves rolling in, someone at home waits in nervous tension, and the gang in the ship, despite their personal differences band together to come out alive and well. Some of the crew who get lost in the sea are mourned for a brief period of time.
Disney’s new film The Finest Hours pretty much ticks off this checklist of clichés, but is still a fairly enjoyable yarn. The film is purportedly based on a true story, but as is often the case with these kinds of films, it’s impossible to pin point what the truth is and what fabrication melodramatic masala has been added to make the film more entertaining.
There are in fact two different stories woven into one narrative here. In the first story, the crew of a new England oil tanker SS Pendelton are ravaged by a storm and are stranded at sea after the ship is torn into two different parts. The chief engineer Raymond Sybert (Casey Affleck) does his best to commandeer his men to keep the boat afloat in the hope of a rescue party. As they grapple on to life they have internal disagreements and a sliver of distrust between Sybert and the crew makes things more difficult to deal with.
In the second story Coxswain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), who is about to get married to Miriam (Holliday Grainger), is sent off with a small team for the rescue mission. This team is sent on a small boat and must battle the hurricane at sea, gigantic waves and complete lack of visibility. The emotional hook in this story, predictably, is Webber’s fiancée waiting for him back home.
What makes the movie interesting is the pitch perfect pacing from director Craig Gillespie during the sea faring sequences. There’s hardly a dull moment when the men in both the stories are battling it out at the sea – the CGI waves are believably scary and the editing is razor sharp enough to keep you entertained. Both Affleck and Pine bring some conviction to their characters, the latter especially does well to establish a character that is as driven to his duty as he is to his future wife.
The supporting characters is where the film fumbles. Ben Foster makes a blink and you miss it cameo as a crew member while Eric Bana shows up as Webber’s commanding officer who does little but shout orders in an obviously fake accent. Speaking of accents, it is absolutely impossible to comprehend the dialogue in the movie.
The New England accents are soaked in technical jargon and even if you try to really pay attention you’ll find yourselves frustrated with the noise of the storm overpowering the lines of the actors. You begin to wonder why the actors were given lines to begin with – it might as well have worked as a silent film.
And given the numerous Spielberg style close ups in the movie, and Carter Burwell’s rousing score, The Finest Hours deserved a far less talky movie than it presently is. But it’s ultimately a Disney movie, and a sentimental one, and if you’ve ever found yourself liking any film by this production house you’ll easily enjoy The Finest Hours.