2016.66: The Finest Hours (Amazon VOD)
This one was a pleasant surprise. Sinking pretty dismally at the box-office (pardon the pun) to fairly lacklustre reviews, this Disney-produced period adventure is based on the true story of four coast guards who braved a terrifying storm of 60-foot waves in a small motor lifeboat to save the remaining crew of a 500ft oil tanker which had been split in two by a cataclysmic storm in 1952. It is a story of incredible bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, of man pitted against nature. The leads are pretty great, the effects spectacular and the stunts quite scary- it’s quite a good film that probably deserved better success (it is certainly superior to In The Heart of the Sea).
Maybe the problem is that it always feels very safe and familiar. Limited by being faithful to the true events perhaps, it seems to follow the pattern of films like The Perfect Storm, cutting from the perils of the sea to loved ones waiting for news back home. Its supposed to invest audience empathy but here it really only serves to distract from the dramatic events at sea. A sub-plot involving our hero’s girlfriend crashing her car in the snow may be true to historical events, I don’t know, but it only seems to dilute the tension and unnecessarily pad out the running time. Another problem is that the films nominal hero, coastguard Bernie Webber, is a modest and unassuming guy (a bit of a stretch for Chris Pine, you’d think) and the lead protagonist on the doomed tanker, engineer Ray Sybert ( a brilliant understated turn by Casey Affleck), is likewise a quiet outsider amongst his crew- these two characters are two unlikely leads to carry a big movie. Both have to rise above their own natures to survive, but it’s generally quiet heroics as opposed to the usual crowd-pleasing showboating we usually get in movies.
There is always a sense though, whatever the films problems, that its heart is always in the right place as it tells its almost too-fantastic-to-be-true story, and that the story really is remarkable enough to ensure the viewer can likely forgive the film it’s odd pitfall. The first sudden revelation of what has happened to the tanker is a genuinely shocking moment and from then on the film is pretty gripping. Then again, I’m always a sucker for these true story flicks, so maybe people’s mileage may vary.
Period details seems fine; indeed at the close of the film the credits run over photographs of the characters and actual locations from 1952 to underline how faithful the film was. Perhaps that faithfulness is what ultimately undermines the film from breaking those familiar tropes that might irritate some viewers, but I’d rather put up with that than them invent stuff simply to artificially increase tension and spectacle. Yes it sometimes feels formulaic and the sequences back on land can irritate rather than elevate, but on the whole I’d say this film is well worth anyones time. Maybe more Sunday matinee material than it really needed to be, it remains a great story fairly well told, certainly not as bad as some reviews said. Yeah, a pleasant surprise.