The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE FINEST HOURS"

The Finest Hours

Some movies are forever, and some are just for the two hours that you watch them. That is to say, some are truly great works, or they entertain you in such a way that you never forget them. Others keep you hooked for their running times, but don't stay with you. The Finest Hours is definitely a movie that belongs in the second category. I probably won't remember much about it six months from now. Still, for 117 minutes, it sufficiently engaged me.

Set in 1952, the film tells the story of Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a fairly timid member of the Coast Guard stationed in Cape Cod. He goes on what is essentially a blind date and ends up falling head over heels for Miriam (Holliday Grainger). Shortly after they become engaged, he's sent out on a perilous mission by Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). A nasty storm at sea has destroyed two separate oil tankers. One of them has been torn completely in half, with more than thirty men stranded on it. Bernie puts together a small crew to take a motor boat out. Faced with massive waves and harsh winter conditions, they risk life and limb in an attempt to rescue those in danger. Casey Affleck plays Ray Sybert, the tanker's engineer who cobbles together a plan to keep everyone afloat until help arrives.

The Finest Hours is based on a non-fiction book by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, which is subtitled The True Story of a Historic Sea Rescue. It takes a fairly streamlined approach to the material. As opposed to something like The Perfect Storm, which took the thrill-a-minute route, or even a piece of fiction like The Martian, which emphasized the "How will we pull this rescue off?" aspects, The Finest Hours doesn't gussy anything up. It just recounts the details of the mission in dutiful, respectful fashion. There are moments of great peril, yet they aren't necessarily presented in a nail-biting way. You also won't learn much about how the Coast Guard conducts rescues. Mostly, the film is a straightforward dramatization of something that really happened, with minimal insight into the mechanics of it.

And that's okay, because it remains an inherently interesting piece of history being recounted. Director Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm) keeps the hazards faced by Bernie, Ray, and the others front and center, so that you recognize just how much the odds were against anyone surviving. Even if it doesn't hit the dramatic highs of other rescue movies – or even other sea-faring stories - The Finest Hours is nevertheless sturdy and well-paced enough to keep you invested and rooting for success.

On the character side, things play out in much the same way. We sense that Ray sees a possible means of survival, while Bernie finds his inner courage once he has a moment to really step up to the plate. That's about it for personal depth. Nonetheless, Affleck and Pine are quite good in their roles. The breakout performance, however, comes from Holliday Grainger, who co-starred in last year's live-action Cinderella. The romance between Bernie and Miriam is here largely to provide a more intimate emotional payoff to the film, but Grainger accomplishes something greater. During a scene in which Miriam confronts Cluff, she imbues the relationship with a depth the screenplay never quite gives it. Every moment she's on screen, the actress conveys her character's love for Bernie, in addition to her fear that she'll never see the man she loves again. It's terrific work from an up-and-comer worth paying attention to.

Visual effects used to depict the storm, the damaged tanker, and the treacherous conditions Bernie and crew confront are generally very good. A few shots, in particular, really capture the vastness of the waves created by the storm. Those effects have an eerie quality that ranks among the film's high points. The 3D conversion, on the other hand, is completely useless. A couple of semi-cool shots aside, there's nothing here designed to capitalize on the format's possibilities.

When all is said and done, The Finest Hours has enough that works to make it worth seeing. What Bernie Webber and his colleagues did is nothing short of amazing and, at its best, the film honors the fearless dedication they showed. It's a compelling story through and through. There's even something appealing about the fact that the movie isn't trying to be more than it is. Whereas other pictures of this type tend to focus on the thrills, this one focuses on the idea that lives are at stake. The Finest Hours' appreciation of the “leave no man behind” ethic is refreshing.

Some minor flaws aside, the elements that the movie gets right carry it along quite pleasurably.

( out of four)


The Finest Hours is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.


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