The Finest Hours movie poster
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The Finest Hours
The Finest Hours movie poster

The Finest Hours Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

You may not know it--I didn’t, and I’m the most knowledgeable person in the world--but in 1952, a small Coast Guard crew made an incredible and unlikely rescue off the coast of Cape Cod after a tanker literally split in two, stranding 33 men in a sinking ship amidst a horrific storm. And, as you might expect, they’ve now made a movie about it: The Finest Hours.

The movie gets the full Disney treatment, which means two things: you’re going to get a generally enjoyable piece of uplifting entertainment, and it’ll come with layers upon layers of schmaltz. As long as you expect the latter, you’ll be in for an enjoyable and at times thrilling experience.

Chris Pine turns in a fine performance as shy quasi-captain Bernie Weber (can you be a captain of what is essentially a glorified rowboat?), a character far different from the outgoing and energetic roles he’s known for. He’s surrounded by a talented cast who all do their parts dutifully--Ben Foster is fun to watch, even when he’s not given a whole lot to do--though it’s Casey Affleck, who plays the damaged ship’s engineer, that stands above the rest.

The actors, and the movie overall, are held back only by the screenplay-by-committee, which rarely allows any element to dip too far below the surface. Pine is good, but his character largely feels manufactured. Eric Bana is completely wasted in a thankless, one-dimensional role. While the scenes with his fiance Miriam (Holliday Grainger) are okay on their own, the trio of screenwriters seem so convinced that the film’s emotional core must revolve around a romantic relationship that they spend an inordinate amount of time developing it--and wrapping things back around to Miriam--instead of focusing on the rescue mission at hand. And ultimately, the screenplay, in true Disney fashion, gets overly sappy when it doesn’t need to be.

The Finest Hours’ saving grace is that its underlying story is just so damned good, screenplay and cheesiness issues are unable to sink it. The movie takes a long time to get going--I mean, there is literally no urgency whatsoever for the first 30 or 40 minutes--and it could have easily been 20 minutes shorter, but anytime the movie jumps from land to the ocean, the excitement factor ratchets up considerably. While director Craig Gillespie could have done a better job diving into the details of the rescue operation, there’s no denying the threat of death lingers throughout the film, creating a sense of suspense that at times will leave you wringing your hands for comfort.

The Finest Hours isn’t a great movie, but the story it tells is great. Had Disney not been so forceful in applying its predictable formula, the movie could have really been something, but as is, it’s still an entertaining, enjoyable and ultimately feel-good force of nature.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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