Brace yourselves: it’s 1951 and the towering waves whipped up by a monumental nor’easter off the coast of Massachusetts are about to batter you into submission. Craig Gillespie’s The Finest Hours is a rip-roaring disaster epic from Disney based on real events: a rookie coast guard’s attempt to rescue the crew of a tanker split in two during the storm of the century. Whilst playing things rather safe and without doing anything outside of what we expect from his film, Gillespie crafts an exhilarating ride thanks largely to huge scope for spectacle and a solid cast. Other than edge of your seat, death-defying nautical action, there’s no sex, fruity language or instances of anything too violent, leaving the door open for all audiences and that’s no bad thing.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. An unusually reserved Chris Pine must be commended for his portrayal of Bernie Webber, initially shy and retiring he steadily grows in stature. A young man whose three brothers fought in WWII and who – gossip and sideways looks suggest – was responsible for a failed rescue attempt the previous year, he certainly has a point to prove. Leaving his panic stricken fiancee (Holliday Grainger) ashore – and equally stranded with little to work with – Bernie steps into the breach and sets out to sea with Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner and John Magaro on what many townsfolk consider a suicide mission.
Likely concerned with copyright issues, the three man screenwriting team flirt with “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” type lines but the plucky coast guards do take a real pounding in a tiny vessel. Lost and floundering in the bitter winter’s night, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck – at his reliably understated best) takes charge of the SS Pendleton’s remaining half, doing all he can to keep her afloat until help arrives. Plausibility is stretched beyond its breaking point at times; not least the fact Casey and crew are in little more than shirt sleeves, drenched to the bone in glacial North Atlantic waters and express not even the suggestion of a shiver at any point. Those East Coast boys really are tough as nails.
A great deal of the action is truly breathtaking and it’s a pity that Carter Burwell’s deafening score is used with such little restraint, crashing in with the subtlety of a tidal wave each and every time we go back to the stricken vessel. Seen on an IMAX screen in 3D, the experience of watching The Finest Hours comes close to running off course. It’s hard to comprehend how big studios bosses are still yet to realise that the extra dimension brings nothing to the table in terms of enjoyment. One camera flourish that does work well, however, is a one-take shot take that falls from high up on deck to the engine room deep below in a dizzying corkscrew. Unlike the historic events it depicts The Finest Hours isn’t one for the ages but in terms of a couple of hours spent at the cinema, it’s mighty fine entertainment.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens