Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Granger, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, Eric Bana
Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Peril
"The Finest Hours" does exactly what it sets out to do, which is to provide almost two hours of forearm gripping adrenaline and entertainment. It's tense, exciting, well-acted and splendidly photographed. While it doesn't achieve the terror of "The Perfect Storm" or the emotional complexity of "In the Heart of the Sea," remember that those films set the bar pretty high. Even a film of significantly less quality is a sure bet for a night's entertainment.
Bernie Webber (Pine) is a shy young man working for the Coast Guard. He meets a lovely young woman named Miriam (Granger), with whom he becomes engaged. But trouble is brewing off the coast. Two ships have split apart out at sea during a terrible gale, and with the majority of the Coast Guard at the first wreck, it's up to Bernie and three other crew members, Richard Livesey (Foster), Andy "Fitzy" Fitzgerald and land bound sailor Ervin Maske (Magaro) to save those trapped on the SS Pendleton. But even if they get there, which is highly unlikely, how can a tiny boat rescue some 30 odd men?
Meanwhile on the Pendleton, the highest ranking officer, Ray Sybert (Affleck) is trying to keep the ship afloat long enough for rescue, if anyone is coming at all. His only hope is to run aground and buy a few hours, but in this weather rescue is unlikely. Worse, there is dissention in the ranks, which may condemn them all to a watery grave before help arrives.
The film is less about the rescue and more about the trials of getting there. The question is whether Bernie and his men will make to the Pendleton, and if they can make it at all, will it still be there when they arrive? By telling both stories, Gillespie risks the dilution of suspense by not getting the audience to care about either. But both stories are tense enough and the characters well developed that it pays off.
The performances help a lot, with some great actors doing a lot with underwritten roles. Chris Pine, one of the most exciting young actors working today, is great as the mild-mannered Bernie. He's shy and bashful, but has the guts to see this thing through to the end. He's no lady killer. It is to Pine's credit that he doesn't turn Bernie into Bruce Willis. He's still shy and withdrawn, but he has the courage to do what needs to be done. Casey Affleck likewise plays a soft spoken individual who takes control, but the characters don't feel like carbon copies of each other. Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro and Eric Bana provide solid support. Bana is good, but his character feels a little short-changed. Maybe more of his scenes were left on the cutting room floor. The only one who doesn't work is Holliday Granger. Although she looks like the person she's portraying, she's only adequate and shares no chemistry with Pine, making the romantic subplot a dead end.
The film's flaws are few, but noticeable enough to be worth mentioning. The film's pacing drags here and there, particularly in the opening act. Once Bernie and his crew head out to see, it's golden for the most part. The dialogue occasionally feels a little stilted, but it's not bad. And while having someone speak for someone else can build tension, it's a device that Gillespie uses one time too many.
Still, the film's pluses outweigh the minuses by a considerable amount, and that's more than enough to get a hearty recommendation from me.