Disney’s new true-life adventure film, The Finest Hours, is a dramatization of the daring sea rescue of the SS Pendleton oil tanker that broke in half off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts, during a devastating winter storm in 1952. The real-life crew of the ship and the Coast Guard heroes who rescued them faced insurmountable odds in their desperate attempt to survive the catastrophe, but the film itself is simply insurmountably odd.
Directed by Craig Gillespie (Fright Night – 2011), this survival at sea story is broken into three pieces: a fifties’ era love story between a Coast Guard sailor and his beautiful best girl; the crew of a ship (well…half a ship) fighting to stay alive; and the Coast Guard crew sent out on an impossible mission to locate and save survivors.
None of the aforementioned pieces work great on their own, and once the narratives finally do merge (which takes quite a while) it doesn’t get much better. The first ten to fifteen minutes of the movie concentrates on nothing but the fledgling romance between the main characters, Coast Guard sailor Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) and his girlfriend Miriam (Holliday Grainger), who meet on a blind date and are happy because neither of them is a “dog.” (Come on, Disney!)
Eventually we catch up to the SS Pendleton, where engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) is concerned over creaking welds that he predicts will not hold together if the ship continues its current speed and course through the New England nor’easter blizzard. I had my doubts about Ben’s brother being able to pull off this burly role, but he does a convincing job.
Just as sure as all sea Captains are crazy (or at least that’s what this film would have you believe), the Pendleton breaks into two pieces and the forward section (with the radio) sinks almost immediately. Fortunately, Sybert devises a way to steer the ship to ground, but it’s still a short matter of time before the aft end sinks as well.
Enter the Coast Guard! Just as Webber is set to ask his commanding officer, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), for permission to marry Miriam, he’s ordered to put together a four-man crew to man a small wooden motor-lifeboat and brave the storm with its seventy-foot-tall waves in order to save the stranded souls on what remains of the Pendleton.
[NERD NOTE: The last time Chris Pine and Eric Bana played off each other was in 2009’s ‘Star Trek’ reboot, wherein Pine played Kirk and Bana played the Romulan, Nero.]
The three writers on this film (Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson), not counting the two authors of the book on which it is based (The Finest Hours: The True Story of a Heroic Sea Rescue by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman), almost seem as though they wrote separate movies. Of course, I have no idea what their actual process was, but it felt like they were in separate rooms, each working on a different film that never merges together in a satisfying fashion.
Pine and Affleck do the best they can, which is pretty good, with the weak material they are given, but Australian actor Bana, who plays a southerner in New England with a really funky accent, seems completely out of place in a very lame and minor role.
Speaking of indecipherable accents, unless you are a sailing man from Nantucket you are likely to be lost in a sea of heavy New England pronunciations of obscure nautical terms. I honestly didn’t know what was being said for a good portion of this film.
The movie ends in a naively absurd climax that will set your eyes to rolling, but even then I can’t say I disliked this movie altogether. It does have some decent special effects (although I would pass on the 3D version) and there are a few minutes of intense suspense and action. It’s a decent enough survival at sea movie, but far from perfect. Grade: 4/10
Photos © 2015 Walt Disney Studios