There’s something almost heroic about how Craig Gillespie strives to make an indie film out of a blockbuster with The Finest Hours.
Where other directors would have sought to fully exploit the awesome CGI-generated monster waves of this watery rescue drama, by matching them with outsized human personalities, Gillespie chooses understatement.
The movie has two capable leading men, Chris Pine and Casey Affleck, but both play the mildest and most introverted of action figures, who shrug in the face of danger. (In the case of Affleck, it’s almost as if he was working on his harbour town loner character from Manchester by the Sea, a superior drama that premiered at Sundance last weekend.)
Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm) and his screenwriters laudably strive to keep true to the film’s real-life account from 1952, when four members of the Massachusetts Coast Guard risked almost certain death to rescue 32 sailors from a sinking oil tanker called the Pendleton, split in half by a ferocious storm off the Cape Cod coast. But history often needs more than just the bare facts to make for a satisfying movie.
Pine plays Hero No. 1, Bernie Webber, a charm-deficient guy who knows the sea better than he does his own heart. He has to be talked into getting engaged to his girlfriend (Holliday Grainger), who evidently finds him more exciting than we do.
Bernie’s decision to take a 36-foot lifeboat into lethal 100-foot waves, to the surprise of his Texan commanding officer (Eric Bana), seems as much suicidal as it is stoic: “We all live or we all die, right?” he tells his men.
On the Pendleton, meanwhile, is Hero No. 2, Affleck’s chief engineer Ray Sybert. He’s adopting a similar git-er-done approach to impending disaster, even as flood waters rise to the waist and the other sailors start to panic and threaten mutiny. He’s like a robot version of Star Trek’s Scotty as he issues commands like, “We’ve gotta isolate the boiler!”
Couldn’t one of these guys have summoned a moment of genuine emotion? They’re both shades of grey, just like the movie, which barely seems to have been shot in colour, although it was. The film is also 3D, but that’s even harder to discern.
Then there are those waves, which are the real stars of the movie, and which make The Finest Hours a worthwhile viewing experience.
They’re something to behold: liquid behemoths on the rampage, stealing every scene they’re allowed to be in. The theatre marquee should read: “The Finest Hours, starring Monster Waves, Chris Pine and Casey Affleck.”