Though Disney’s latest movie, “The Finest Hours,” which is out in theaters Thursday, is the cinematic equivalent of a white button-down shirt — simple and certainly not unique, but classic for a reason. Directed by Craig Gillespie of “Lars and the Real Girl” fame, “The Finest Hours” has no frills, relying on a simple storyline of a daring rescue mission at sea and uninteresting characters, yet its sound execution and excellent historical source material make for an enjoyable albeit predictable movie.
Based on the actual 1950s Coast Guard rescue of the SS Pendleton amid a fierce storm, “The Finest Hours” skillfully captures the courage of the U.S. Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine). While the movie is mostly made as a tribute to the bravery of USCG officers willing to put their lives on the line in a daring rescue, the movie does a respectable job at giving each character a backstory. Webber in particular grabs the viewers’ sympathies with both his unrelenting commitment to his duty as a Coast Guard shipman and his love for Miriam (Holliday Grainger), his devoted fiancee, waiting for him to marry her.
While the scenes between the two actors do not display much in the way of chemistry, Grainger’s performance carries what would have otherwise been an exceedingly weak couple. In a particularly cute scene, Miriam flips traditional gender roles on their head in a defining moment for her character.
At first glance, Miriam is an ideal Disney woman — a strong-willed “girl power” heroine who challenges gender roles while still loyally loving the male protagonist. However, her scenes grow flatter as the movie progresses. When Bernie sets out on the rescue mission, she remains on land in Massachusetts worried for his life, a la Penelope in “The Odyssey.” But the movie seems to run out of ways to develop her role. There are continual cuts between her storyline and the rescue mission, but her story adds little to the movie aside from giving viewers an additional reason to cheer for Bernie to return home safely. Her scenes feel as though the writers were stretching to shoehorn her character into the plot to break up the constant action at sea.
While Miriam remains relatively consistent throughout the film, Casey Affleck, who plays Ray Sybert, the ship’s chief engineer, and Pine make the most of their limited dialogue, revealing their characters’ development expertly throughout the movie. Webber is introduced as a stickler for regulation and rules, until his strong sense of morality eventually takes over and he disobeys a direct order. Sybert undertakes a predictable but more gratifying transition. Sybert begins as a relatively shy engineer who is reluctant to speak his mind to his fellow crewmembers, but he eventually becomes a voice of leadership for the desperate crew of the SS Pendleton. While Affleck doesn’t get many lines to develop his character, his performance should be commended for making a predictable and relatively cliched character worth watching.
“The Finest Hours” is a very cleanly produced movie in each department, from sound to visuals. As expected from the tight ship that is a Disney production, the members of the sound studio certainly deserve commendation for helping to elevate the movie’s appeal. The movie expertly uses the sound of the crashing waves in conjunction with the dramatic swells of the soundtrack to help build suspense in a movie that is otherwise predictable. The tight production combined with good execution of a simple but inspiring story helps the movie succeed.
While most critics and some viewers will probably be unimpressed by the lack of creativity in the script, the filmmakers have created a simple but well-executed movie. It is a classic Disney film; it is safe, features a riveting true story and gives us the uncomplicated happy ending viewers expect. For those looking for a feel-good story with classic heroes, “The Finest Hours” is worth watching. Bernie Webber’s story is certainly one worth telling, and while it may lack in pomp and embellishment, strong acting by the leads help to make this movie good, though not great.
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