Wednesday, February 3, 2016

'The Finest Hours' review

It's very interesting to look at Disney's release schedule. The mega-studio is responsible for some of the biggest blockbusters that come out in any given year- Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, animated movies, etc. The studio makes billions of dollars off of these huge movies, and yet, every year without fail, they still drop in these small releases that never make very much money. In the past few years, movies like McFarland, USA and Million Dollar Arm have been churned out of the Mouse House with middling grosses and low foreign returns. So why Disney spent an estimated $80 million dollars on The Finest Hours is beyond me. This might not explicitly be another Disney sports movie, but it follows the same template in a less effective way. Despite fine performances from Chris Pine and Casey Affleck, the rough seas of The Finest Hours feel like a metaphor for the way that the movie goes down. The film means well, but it feels haphazardly put together- the pacing is off and there are long stretches where the movie completely lost me. The classical filmmaking of The Finest Hours is admirable, and yet, this tale of a daring rescue fails to compel.

Bernie Webber (Pine) is a noble Coast Guard officer, a rule-following, polite guy who will obey his commands at all times. He's also a rather shy, subdued guy who is incredibly nervous in relationships. The Finest Hours' greatest strength is Bernie and Pine's performance. He's an infinitely likable character and he carries the movie. Pine, essentially playing the antithesis of Star Trek's Captain Kirk, is surprisingly soulful and calm. I was really surprised by how much I liked the character and the performance. Anyways, at the start of the film, he meets Miriam (Holliday Grainger), the woman who will later be his fiance. The two love each other very much, and she cares deeply about him and is always worrying that he won't come back alive. Her strength as the wife of a Coast Guard officer will be tested when an awful storm hits off the Boston harbor, cutting an oil tanker in half.

Half of the boat sinks, but the other half stays afloat and the crew survives. Led by the quiet Ray Sybert (Affleck), the crew must band together to stay alive during an epic series of waves and rain that threatens to capsize their entire boat. But the crew can only do so much. Eventually, Bernie and his crew will have to come to the rescue. Although the local fisherman advise otherwise, Coast Guard leader Daniel Cluff sends Bernie and his crew of men (Ben Foster, John Magaro, among others) on a near-suicide mission to save 32 men from a terrible fate.

The Finest Hours is a very endearing film. It means well, and it's hard to outright dislike it. The performances all-around are pretty spectacular. As previously noted, I was incredibly impressed by Pine. who stretches himself and works well as Bernie Webber. Casey Affleck has less to work with, but he manages to do a lot of subtle things with Ray and I thought he did a solid job. Holliday Grainger is great at being a very persistent and caring wife and the supporting cast is strong as well- Ben Foster, John Magaro, Eric Bana, John Magaro and Graham McTavish all add something to the movie that helps it build over the course of the runtime.

This is also a visually stunning film, filled with a descriptive sense of period and some special effects that will certainly amaze you. The constant rain and the never-ending flood of waves causes the film to become slightly visually busy, and yet, I have a hard time thinking that you'll notice when the sound and picture elements are as engrossing as they are in The Finest Hours. Some of the action scenes are epic and thrilling, with the final rescue serving as a terrifically staged sequence that offers up some truly edge-of-your-seat action. These represent the best moments of the film- the moments where it rises above formula to become something with true emotion and spectacle.

Unfortunately, the intermittent thrills of The Finest Hours coupled with the fine performances are only able to carry it so far. Because while I think that director Craig Gillespie certainly figured out the heart of this epic story, he didn't discover a good way to tell it. From scene one, The Finest Hours is a thoroughly choppy ride. There doesn't seem like much rhyme or reason to the way that the film progresses and it's not that it feels mechanized or artificial- it just feels wrong. The film kicks off with the origin of Bernie and Miriam's relationship and then suddenly, the storm rises and the movie moves forward in jolts to drag its way to the action. Long sequences go nowhere and the constant hopping between the stories of Bernie, Miriam and Ray drags the momentum out of the film.

The Finest Hours is also just a tiring film and a dull one. In some ways, it reminded me of The Revenant, except it doesn't feel as pompously over-the-top or gimmicky. And yet, the films still connect- they both pummel you with action to the point of sheer monotony. A good stretch of The Finest Hours is nothing more than just Bernie and his team driving the boat over a series of waves. The scene goes on for ages, as much more engaging and compelling action happens around the other characters. Sequences like that took me out of the movie and just wore me out, leaving me mostly uninterested in the characters and the story. The pacing in The Finest Hours is just truly awful, which is especially disappointing considering that Gillespie's Million Dollar Arm worked so naturally and effectively.

Disney's latest foray into sentimental family entertainment has a lot of promise, but a lack of dramatic momentum truly suffocates it. The Finest Hours is likely to embraced by certain audiences because of its wholesomeness, and yet, it will certainly fade from memory instantly. That's the most disappointing aspect of this film- it's completely disposable. Gillespie and the screenwriters took a famous and daring story and found a way to create a failed cross between procedural and character drama that falls flat. The Finest Hours is like a slowly deflating balloon- it starts out good, but with every single scene that arrives, the air just keeps getting sucked out of this flick.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                               (6/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Screen Rant

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