In the winter of 1952, the combination of an arrogant captain and a brutal storm results in the hull of the SS Pendleton rupturing so violently that the vessel splits in two, leaving its crewmen adrift at sea with no power and no way to call for help. While some of the men want to abandon ship and take their chances with the lifeboats, assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) devises a plan to buy everyone some time in hopes they can weather the storm.
Meanwhile, Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is nervously working up the courage to ask his commanding officer (Eric Bana) for permission to marry his sweetheart, Miriam (Holliday Grainger). But when most of the Chatham, Massachusetts crew is dispatched to assist a second oil tanker that has been decimated by the storm, Bernie is tasked with taking three other men and a 36-foot lifeboat to aid the Pendleton.
Based on “the most daring rescue in US Coast Guard history,” The Finest Hours is a paint-by-numbers adventure that plays like a less-hazardous version of The Perfect Storm. Even as the shattered hull of the Pendleton continues to fill with water, or as Bernie and his men lose their compass and continue bravely into the open sea without being able to navigate, we never believe that any real peril exists for these characters.
Created mostly via sub-par CG effects – a rarity for a Disney film – the frequent showcase of chaotic weather conditions actually detracts from the film. Against the blackness of night, the forceful crashing of waves and the endless sheets of rain all blend together, and the majority of these sequences are so dark that it’s impossible to determine what the hell is happening on the screen.
Pine’s soft-spoken portrayal of Bernie is a far cry from the type of swaggering alpha males he typically embodies, and it’s nice to see him changing things up a bit. But as a reserved and respectful young man who always follows the rules and hardly ever raises his voice above a whisper, he also lacks any sort of charisma – which makes it difficult for the audience to invest in him as the hero of our story. Far more compelling is Affleck, who broods and smolders in nearly every shot, and seems to be the only character in the film that could plausibly exist in the real world.
The real-life story behind The Finest Hours has all the ingredients of a thrilling tale of heroism, but director Craig Gillespie is never quite able to bring those elements together. With its combination of one-note characters, mediocre visuals and a love story that feels like it belongs in a completely different film, The Finest Hours is much like the crew of the Pendleton – hopelessly adrift and praying for a rescue.