‘The Finest Hours’ somehow loses track of its emotional core
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
“The Finest Hours” – Chris Pine landed the role of a lifetime as Captain James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” (2009) reboot. For millions of Trekkies, Pine is a 23rd Century hero, but in “The Finest Hours”, he plays a real-life one from the 20th Century, U.S. Coast Guard Officer Bernie Webber. Bernie led one of the most dramatic rescues in U.S. Coast Guard history near Cape Cod, MA on Feb. 18, 1952, and the film recreates the events from that fateful, wintery day.
Contrasting the massively dangerous events in the nearby ocean, director Craig Gillespie also intertwines Bernie’s budding relationship with his new girlfriend/fiancé Miriam (Holliday Grainger) into the narrative. Bernie and Miriam’s first encounter is sweet, nice and feels appropriate for a much more innocent time. For example, Bernie worries he picked out the wrong shirt for their date and seems infinitely nervous about meeting Miriam for the first time. Pine and Grainger deliver the cautious courtship with humor, awkwardness and chemistry, and they make it extremely easy to like this young couple.
Their relationship cannot be all smiles though, because Bernie’s job is occasionally dangerous, and on Feb. 17, he embarks on a journey in treacherous waters to save the crew from the SS Pendleton. The violent storm literally cuts the Pendleton in half, and the crew’s lives will surely be lost without any immediate, outside help. Bernie and a three-man crew of his own offer their assistance, albeit in a 30-foot, single-engine boat.
Unfortunately, this is where the movie falls down, and not due to a lack of special effects or sense of danger. Instead, it just fails to develop any of the involved characters. The treacherous on-screen nor’easter certainly generates cinematic fear with massive waves which dwarf Bernie’s boat. He actually revs the engine and climbs a - seemingly 100-yard high - wave like a football player chugging up a hill during spring practice and then braces for the dramatic fall on the other side. He needs to repeatedly navigate this maneuver ad nauseam and in spectacular fashion, as we wonder how this crew survives the first clash with one wave, let alone a constant stream of them.
The journey into the beyond-brutal conditions with freezing cold, dark skies and whipping wind in the chaotic Atlantic is somehow inexplicably muted with Pine’s purposely subdued performance. He gives a no-nonsense, just-move-forward persona which is free of much meaningful dialogue. He and his crew (who we barely know) do not really have any deep conversations, and although I wished for their success, I did not emotionally connect with them. Meanwhile on land, Miriam longs for Bernie’s return and riddles herself with worry, but she does not verbalize her feelings either. With Bernie’s focus on the monumental task at hand and Miriam’s lack of key self-talk about her feelings, the initial connection between the two – developed in the movie’s first 20 minutes – becomes lost. In many ways, the hope for their potential reunion feels a bit hollow and nearly nonexistent. The personalities of the SS Pendleton crew seem nonexistent as well, with Casey Affleck delivering the only memorable performance of the 33 seamen.
I must add that Gillespie does a nice job of capturing the actual mechanics of the rescue, and the sea-filled sequences are pretty miraculous. Leaving the theatre, I was left in awe of Bernie Webber’s bravery and grit, as he truly achieved greatness that I will never forget. Regrettably, “The Finest Hours” accomplished something almost as amazing: it somehow missed conveying human connections between groups of people with the deepest of bonds. The film did not need to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” It simply needed to emotionally go where these individuals have already been. (2/4 stars)