If you’re in the right mindset for a disaster/rescue picture, The Finest Hours will efficiently get the job done. It doesn’t rank up there with The Poseidon Adventure or the second half of Titanic. As far as movies like this go, though, the visuals are tasteful, the performances are uniformly solid, and there are several genuinely intense moments. What’s more, the filmmakers don’t relentless shove inspiration down our throats or bombard us with obnoxious stereotypes. That’s more than can be said about San Andreas or Into the Storm.
The film sets itself in 1952 as a terrible blizzard hits Cape Cod. Caught in the midst of the storm is the SS Pendleton, which is broken in two. Stranded at sea, the fate of the men aboard rests on the shoulders of the Coast Guard. Although the odds of returning are well below sea level, a few good men hop aboard a lifeboat and embark on a daring mission. Will our heroes defy all the odds and rescue the oil tanker crew? Well, it wouldn’t be an especially “extraordinary true story” if they didn’t succeed.
Chris Pine does fine work as Bernard C. Webber, a modest Coast Guardsman who will gladly face certain death, but is hopelessly timid when it comes to the ladies. Holliday Grainger takes what could a bland emotional support role and turns in a lively performance as Bernie’s fiancé. Casey Affleck is also strong as Ray Sybert, an engineer who keeps his ship and his men afloat. As for the rest of the cast, they’re all perfectly serviceable, although many of them just kind of blend into each other. We don’t want to see any of them die, but there isn’t a huge emotional investment either. The same can be said about Everest and In the Heart of the Sea, which both looked astounding, but were just okay on a character level.
With that said, director Craig Gillespie pulls off a number of impressive set pieces here. The Pendleton in particular is a visual marvel and the water effects are among the best of recent memory. The film keeps the action going at a steady pace, remaining consistently exciting throughout. While The Finest Hours could have taken a few more breaks for character development, at least the screenwriters don’t go overboard with explaining everyone’s backstory and motivation. It may not perfectly juggle action and emotion, but it does ultimately find a good enough balance.
There’s just one thing audiences need to keep in mind. If you plan on seeing The Finest Hours, be sure to buy a ticket for the regular 2D screening. As many moviegoers know, 3D always makes imagery look murkier. This especially hurts The Finest Hours, which is primarily shot at night in the dark. Watching the film in 3D, it’s at times difficult to tell what’s going on. Releasing the film in this format was a huge miscalculation on Disney’s part, taking away from an otherwise effective thriller.