Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenplay: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy
Action/Drama/History, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: January 29, 2016
Well Greg, are you ready to write one of your finest reviews?
Yes, but the time spent watching this film was not quite The Finest Hours I’ve spent. Let’s recap…
We meet young Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a crewman in the U.S. Coast Guard stationed near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Bernie is shy around women but meets a young lady named Miriam (Holliday Grainger), who is far from shy. She proposes marriage to Bernie on the same night that a big snowstorm slams into the New England coast.
Webber’s incompetent exec sends him and three others over the “bar” to track down an oil freighter which has split in two. Webber apparently has a history with this bar. In a previous rescue mission, Webber went by-the-book and turned back, leaving a small fishing boat to its demise. The town’s people, and Webber, haven’t forgotten. So, when Webber is faced with the same problem, he goes beyond what is wise and pushes through the treacherous waters and embarks on what will be the Coast Guard’s greatest small-vessel rescue of all time.
The Finest Hours reminds me of a football team that, on paper, should win the league championship – but doesn’t. The film has all its ducks in a row, such as a terrific true story, a fine cast, and wonderful visual effects of the angry sea tossing people and ships with reckless abandon. On paper, everything appears great, but somehow the whole ends up being less than the sum of the parts.
Part of the problem, I must confess, lies in my expectations for modern movies to dazzle me with unique storytelling, saucy dialogue, and surprise endings. The Finest Hours has none of these things. This movie is old-school to an astonishing degree. Perhaps if you go into the theater expecting a 1950s treatment of the story, you’ll walk away a satisfied customer. My modern movie-watching sensibilities, however, were not impressed by heroes shouting, “Not on my watch” and “Either we’re all going to live or we’re all going to die”
Don’t get me wrong. If you enjoy true accounts of daring selflessness, this movie is for you. The CGI effects of the waves barreling through oil tankers and ravaging coast guard boats are spectacular. Just be ready to encounter simple characters cut from a bygone era.
I had the same impressions, Scott. Finest seems cut from the cloth of the 1950s sensibilities. It’s certainly not the finest hours I’ve spent in the theater. It’s acceptable that the film be set in the 1950s, but the dialog surely should be more modern.
There are two sets of heroes in this film. There’s our young hero Webber captaining his small rescue boat. And there is the reluctant hero Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) in the engine room of the S.S. Pendleton. Sybert doesn’t want to lead. He is more at home below decks, tending to the engines. But the hotheads on deck want to jump ship in the lifeboats. Sybert saves them all by launching an empty lifeboat which is instantly dashed to pieces along the side of the ship. It’s Sybert who comes up with a plan for grounding the Pendelton that ultimately saves the 32 men. He had to lead or they would all have been doomed.
The mentors in this film are hard to find. Webber is motivated to follow the rules at all times. The Coast Guard regulations as taught to him by his teachers are his mentor. Ultimately, as with any mentee, Bernie leaves his mentor behind when it is clear that he won’t be able to save the men of the Pendleton. Webber’s teachers are the “unseen mentors” in his head who tell him what is right and wrong.
There are also the fishermen who routinely fish the waters of Cape Cod. Like them, Bernie respects the law of the sea. There are things such men know and respect. These unwritten rules also govern Bernie.
Our two parallel heroes, Webber and Sybert, are both men who end up doing the right thing despite being under immense pressure from others to go the easy and cowardly route. They show strength, selflessness, and resilience — three of the Great Eight characteristics of heroes. We mention over and over again in our reviews that good heroes undergo a transformation during their hero journeys. In Webber’s case, he grows in his recognition that sometimes rules are not meant to be followed but need to be broken if lives are to be saved.
You’re right, Greg, that there are no clear mentors in this film who help our heroes on their journeys. Perhaps that’s another reason why this movie didn’t quite work for me. As you note, implicitly present are former Coast Guard instructors who prepared Webber for emergencies such as this one. We’re given no backstory about Sybert to infer any mentoring influence on him. Sybert is a loner who is more into transforming others by the example he sets than he is into transforming himself.
One could also argue that Webber’s commander — the man who foolishly sent our hero on a suicide mission — is what our latest book on heroes calls a dark mentor figure. Miriam tries to stand her ground against this inept leader, and Webber would have defied the leader in a heartbeat if he thought that doing so would save people’s lives. We’ve seen a number of movies where heroes must overcome dark mentors. Whiplash in 2014 comes to mind.
The Finest Hours was a throwback to the 1950s, both in terms of story and execution. Current leading man-candy Chris Pine gives a fine performance in an otherwise unforgettable film. While it’s not quite A Perfect Storm, it seems that it wants to be. I give this film just 2 out of 5 Reels.
The heroes do pretty well. Webber overcomes his naivete and his need to lean on the rules when things get tough. He learns that the rules are guidelines and when the time comes to act, we must use our best judgement. His parallel hero, Seybert, must step up to the plate. He is the only man on ship who has the knowledge to save his crewmates and he steps up to the challenge. Both men are courageous as they face their fears and act rather than turn tail and hide. I give them 4 out of 5 Heroes.
It’s hard to score an unseen mentor. Both men rely on their experience and knowledge to save the day. (Although there is the one midshipman who pushes Seybert to step up to the challenge.) I don’t think it would have helped the film any if we had a flashback to Webber’s school days. But a physical person to advise either man would have made for a better mentor. I give the unseen mentor just 2 out of 5 Mentors.
The Finest Hours is a movie full of terrific pieces that strangely add up to mediocrity. The film’s characters suffer from an acute case of over-simplicity, and many of the film’s details fall flat or just don’t ring true. For example, the terrible blizzard is shown to leave only a dusting of snow on the roads, and somehow people are able to speak softly to each other, and even sing songs, in the midst of hurricane-strength winds. Ultimately, The Finest Hours lacks the heft it deserved. I enjoyed this movie the way you might enjoy a twinkie when what you really desire is a juicy steak. I award this film 2 Reels out of 5.
Like the rest of the film, the two heroes of the story are old-school and deliver hackneyed phrases that my grandparents might have enjoyed hearing in the era of Humphrey Bogart. Another weakness is that our heroes don’t evolve in any significant way during the course of the movie, although it could be argued that Webber grew in his awareness of the necessity of defying rules when necessary. I do give our heroes credit for their resourcefulness in saving lives. I give them 3 Heroes out of 5.
The absence of positive mentor figures in this movie may explain the absence of much positive growth and change in our heroes. I suspect there is a strong correlation in storytelling between hero transformation and hero mentorship. There is a dark mentor for our hero Webber to overcome, and on board the oil tanker Sybert must also overcome strong dark pressures to do the wrong thing. Among other things, this movie did need more overt positive mentor figures from which our heroes can grow as people. The absence of mentoring in this movie means that I must slap it with a mentor rating of 1 out of 5.