Review of "The Finest Hours (DVD)"

published 21/11/2016 | afy9mab
Member since : 11/07/2000
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All of my DVD reviews are film only, so do not include pricing information. If you have time, please read and rate my Batman V Superman review.
Pro A solid ensemble cast and good effects and period detail.
Cons By-the-numbers writing and Chris Pine is more wooden than his name suggests.
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"All At Sea with Chris Pine"

During a blizzard in the winter of 1952 an oil tanker named the SS Pendleton splits in half off the New England coast. U.S. Coast Guard Bernie Webber and three of his colleagues are sent out in a tiny boat to rescue the crew members. But with conditions worsening and the ship starting to sink, their success is far from assured.

“Lars and the Real Girl” director Craig Gillespie returns with a film that is far more like his first Disney live-action production “Million Dollar Arm” in terms of tone and execution. It is a strangely old-fashioned production. Barring the digital effects, it feels like the sort of movie that could have been made at the time the film is set. It focusses on the true-blue heroism of the U.S. Coast Guard and the crew of the oil tanker. Emotions are as buttoned up as the clothing and not a single person swears, in spite of the perilous situations they find themselves in. There is a very strong sense of place and time, even if the accents are prone to wobbling. The small coastal town of Chatham is presented as a slightly ramshackle and very insular place, where grudges are held for years and newcomers are looked upon with suspicion. It is a film that has the earnestness of the other US Coast Guard movie “The Guardian”, with all of the CGI dramatics of “The Perfect Storm”.

I got the distinct impression that the movie was made to capitalise on the 3D format, by drawing the audience into the heart of the roiling waves. Admittedly the splitting of the Pendleton is impressive, though less spectacular in 2D. But the concessions to stereoscopic viewing aren’t necessary, by and large. The most gripping of all of the action sequences is when Webber and his crew negotiate an Atlantic sandbar, which we are repeatedly told is impossible to master. Gillespie also throws in some inventive shots elsewhere, such as when he follows a series of orders from the ship’s bridge through the bowels of the tanker in what appears to be a single sweeping shot. There are some bracing action sequences, which are well choreographed and performed. However, the prevalence of computer-generated effects removes the human element from some of the bigger set-pieces and diminishes the suspense because there is no imminent danger to the participants.

The storytelling is predictable and lacking in subtlety, which means the production is plagued by a peculiar lack of tension. It doesn’t help that there is very little character development, which makes it difficult to invest emotionally in any of the players or their fates. In addition, the tone is so resolutely reassuring that there is never any doubt what the outcome will be. The disaster lacks a sense of chaos or danger, in spite of the effects. The parallel storylines should be at their most exciting when they finally converge. But when it comes to the rescue, the man-by-man extraction is methodical, but far from thrilling. It all hinges on how the men navigate a ladder, which may be factually accurate, but isn’t very cinematic. The film is also nearly sunk (if you’ll pardon the watery pun) by a key miscasting. There were a lot of times when I thought the best hope for the crew of the stricken tanker would be to jump aboard Chris Pine and let him float them to safety. The term ‘wooden’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. Thankfully the rest of the cast is uniformly strong, but they aren’t served well by a screenplay lacking in nuance. The pacing is plodding in places, so I felt the film was overlong at a-hundred-and-seventeen minutes.

The screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasay and Eric Johnson is adapted from the book of the same name by Casey Sherman and Michael J Tougias. But in spite of being based on real-life events, the adaptation seems oddly formulaic. I think this is because the writers stick doggedly to the conventions of a disaster movie, even when it doesn’t serve the story to do so. It’s a shame because there are the makings of a really involving story here. The script has themes of courage in the face of apparently insurmountable odds, during a life-threatening catastrophe and the triumph of the underdog. But the writers don’t delve deeply enough into any of them. Sybert’s inventiveness in keeping the rest of the crew safe until they are rescued has a lot of mileage in it, but Silver et al merely skate over the top of it. The players are so briefly sketched that they feel like stock characters and the relationships between them are rote. Consequently, there is an emotional void at the centre of the film, which cannot be overcome by a predictable chalk-and-cheese romance, which leads to a needlessly sentimental ending.

The characterisation is sketchy. Bernie Webber is presented as a timid but heroic man, who is a stickler for the rules, he’s haunted by an incident in which he failed to save the crew of a fishing boat from the sea nine years earlier. Miriam is a winsome but sparky love interest, who refuses to sit meekly at home when her fiancé is risking his life. Ray Sybert comes across as antisocial, but is a gifted ship’s engineer, who is respected but not necessarily liked by his crewmates. Daniel Cluff is the Coast Guard station’s commander, who struggles to be accepted by the locals because he is a newcomer to the town. Richard Livesey is the oldest and by far the cockiest of Webber’s volunteer crew members, who acts as though nothing could touch him. Maske and Fitzgerald are more or less interchangeable – inexperienced rookies, who sign up out of a combination of duty and a thirst for excitement. Of the crewmen on the SS Pendleton, there are the old-timer, the pessimist, the callow youth, the joker and so on. But nobody has much of a story or personality. The dialogue is peppered with clichés like “Not on my watch!” but is serviceable.

Chris Pine is catastrophically miscast as the painfully shy coxswain Bernie Webber. Although I commend him for trying to broaden his range, he fails to convince on any level in the role. He is horribly wooden throughout and shares zero chemistry with his on-screen love interest. Casey Affleck is the real star of the show as Ray Sybert, giving a performance full of attention-grabbing twitches, private smiles and a lot of sub-Marlon Brando mumbling. Ben Foster is one of those guys, who seems determined to be a character actor, in spite of his looks. As Richard Livesey, he’s pudgy and arrogant, but still devoted to his job. British actress Holliday Grainger looks picture perfect as the feisty Miriam – the period setting is a great match for her looks. But she struggles to sustain the Massachusetts accent. Eric Bana has similar problems with a drifting Southern US accent as Daniel Cluff, the new commander of the Chatham Coast Guard station. It’s a solid, if not spectacular performance. John Magaro and Kyle Gallner make up the numbers on Webber’s boat as Maske and Fitzgerald. Neither one is particularly memorable. That’s partly down to the script, but also because one scared, pasty young white guy looks much the same as another when they are soaked to the skin and being thrown about on the CGI seas in the dead of night.

The original music by Carter Burwell underscores the storm and much of the action with dark arrangements of swelling strings, soaring brass, threatening woodwinds and heavy percussion. The rule of thumb seems to be ‘the greater the danger, the higher the volume’. But within the context of the film, it works. There are also softer motifs for the romance between Bernie and Miriam.

I didn’t feel greatly moved by “The Finest Hours”. I thought it was a serviceable period disaster movie, but it didn’t have enough emotional or narrative depth to make me care about any of the characters. I found the direction competent and the effects pretty impressive. I wanted more from the writing – I felt the writers were too reliant on clichés. I thought the cast as a whole were pretty good, considering the limitations of the script. But (and this is a very big but) Chris Pine’s turn as Bernie Webber was so awful that it nearly ruined the whole film for me. I think if you watch it with low expectations and treat it as a disaster movie rather than a docudrama, it could be worth a punt on TV.

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Comments on this review

  • raspberry_ripple published 03/03/2017
    Nice =)
  • SnowSurprise published 18/01/2017
    Nicely done!
  • rolandrat123 published 08/12/2016
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Product Information : The Finest Hours (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Actor(s): Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger, Ben Foster

Director(s): Craig Gillespie

DVD Region: DVD

Video Category: Feature Film

Classification: 12 years and over

Production Year: 2016

EAN: 8717418477271


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