By Kyle G. KingIn The Finest Hours, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine, here to make Boston accents sexy again) calms the nerves of his sweetheart by telling her the swelling void beneath the ocean before them isn’t anything to fear. “It’s just more water,” he says, as he stoically looks out to sea. But even as the inevitability of Mother Nature’s grand power builds in Craig Gillespie’s newest directorial feature — one that’s based on true events and a novel by the same name — what ultimately breaks from that ominous crest of foreshadowing is the cinematic equivalent of a vast expanse of monotonous ocean. The film is salty, sure (a cast of hunky young seamen very much helps), but The Finest Hours proves to be a maritime metaphor for a film lost at sea.

In February 1952, during one of the worst storms to ever hit the east coast, the SS Pendleton — a massive ocean tanker bound for Boston — split in two, stranding the still afloat stern section of the ship to watch its front half sink to the bottom of the ocean. As the men aboard fought to control their un-steerable situation, four young men stationed at the Chatham Coast Guard outpost just miles away mounted a rescue operation to save the 33 crew members still on board  in a feat still regarded as the greatest small boat rescue mission in US Coast Guard history.

The true events themselves have already been bronzed in heroic Americana, so all the film has to do is merely beckon a few handsome leads to answer its distress call. While there are a few dozen sailor roles that fill in the background — all essentially functioning as the character “Surly Sailor Number x” — Chris Pine strides ahead as the film’s main protagonist. Casey Affleck broods pretty well too as Ray Sybert, the lionhearted mansel-in-distress married to the stranded tanker that’s just doomed him to a watery grave. Both men are the quiet heroes of a mid-19th century upbringing, and as such better convey their stirring emotions with worrying glares than any effective motivational speeches.

But unfortunately, as the handsome faces and big waves swell, The Finest Hours finds it doesn’t have much to dive into beyond these shallow waters. Even with nautical reprieves with Holliday Grainger as Bernie’s soon-to-be fiance (who does a great job making her character, Miriam, the bold woman more period pieces deserve), the film structurally loses its dramatic compass. In being unable to weigh itself down with the many moral anchors placed around the necks of its characters, The Finest Hours drifts into all-too familiar territory.


As Gillespie levels up in his journeyman genre career — going from comedies to horror to Disney family fare — he employs the sweeping, Spielbergian visuals and epic movie close-ups to showcase what he’s learned along the way. And even though the emotions provided by Carter Burwell’s musical score are about as subtle the storm itself, Gillespie takes steps to focus the film’s drama back to its actors. But even so, the screenplay (provided by the team behind 2010’s Oscar winner The Fighter) fails to provide its heroes with the requisite graceful dialogue, instead relying on its protagonists to simply take on the task handed to them with stoic acceptance. (With respect, a true Bostonian character trait, but overall? A dull cinematic misstep.)

If the tagline of the film’s trailer (“there are hours that define us”) holds any water at all, it’s because The Finest Hours takes nearly 120 minutes to prove that Coast Guard officers are indeed brave as hell, but burdened with the personalities of a tree stump. If you or anyone in your family have ever enlisted with “The Shallow Water Sailors” you may find some credulity with this love letter to their bravery. But if you’ve ever found yourself wondering what the hell “starboard” means, you might find yourself drowning in a sea of the film’s more predictable tropes.

Directed by Craig Gillespie.

Produced by Dorothy Aufiero and James Whitaker.

Screenplay by Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy.

Based on The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue by Michael J. Tougias & Casey Sherman.

Starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz, and Eric Bana.

5 out of 10