Monday, 14 March 2016

Film Review: The Finest Hours

The Finest Hours is based on a true story of 'the most daring Coast Guard rescue in US history'. The film itself is anything but daringly different, but it's a serviceable and enjoyable drama with broad appeal.

Set in 1952 off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, The Finest Hours focuses on a team of brave Coast Guards who must risk it all to save the crew of a container ship that has run aground during a vicious blizzard. Fronting the rescue team is Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a honest everyman who leads a team of four Coast Guards to conquer 70-foot waves and barraging rain to rescue the stranded crew of the rapidly-sinking SS Pendelton.

The Finest Hours has slunk into Australian cinemas without much of fuss, and its easy to see why; up against flashier fare like Grimsby and 10 Cloverfield Lane, this based-on-a-true story drama of human endeavour doesn't have the same draw for audiences looking for straight-up laughs or scares. But, for people looking for something more reserved, The Finest Hours services that need well.

It's a slow-burn to begin with; the opening 20 minutes introduces us to Bernie and fiancee Miriam (Holliday Granger), before the set-up of that fateful day starts to take shape. We meet the crew of the SS Pendleton, fronted by engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck). After their ship snaps in two in the midst of a ferocious blizzard, Captain Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) of the Coast Guard dispatches Webber and his team to battle with the raging seas and stage a daring rescue.

The rescue itself is an elongated set piece that unfolds across several stages; the first sees Bernie's ship battle with massive crashing waves, followed by pitch darkness and piercing rain. The practical effects that have gone into recreating this relentless inclement weather is the real star of the show; when combined with fantastic sound editing and mixing, you can almost feel the howling wind and icy rain in the cinema.

Director Craig Gillespie does a fantastic job of placing there with the crew in the moment, and without knowing the outcome of the story, you genuinely fear for these characters as they venture further into the dark night and surging seas.

The only problem is, the characters themselves are fairly flat and uninteresting. Bernie is your typical hero who follows orders, does the honourable thing and stays true and humble through adversity. Pine brings a boyish innocence to the role, but his character is an inherently uninteresting protagonist who we know we can depend on.

The same goes for his crew; Ben Foster plays Richard Livesey, Bernie's skipper, and even though he challenges his captain on a couple of occasions, we still feel as though the team will stick together and continue with their mission. Affleck's character shows a great deal of ingenuity aboard the Pendelton but even he conforms to a stereotype as the shy, intelligent engineer who earns the respect of his superiors through sheer smarts.

Like I said, the film itself with worth checking out for the amazing technical elements, but the characters won't rivet you. They're plain white bread and butter that thankfully have some interesting dips and dressings on the side to make it tastier.

The Verdict: 6/10

Old-fashioned drama with a hero battling against adversity never hurt anybody, which is why The Finest Hours works as an exhibition piece for practical effects and technical elements. It's just a shame that the plot and characters are as formulaic as they are.

The Finest Hours is in cinemas across Australia now

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