"The Finest Hours" Engages But Falls Short Of Its Title

Director Craig Gillespie (“Lars And The Real Girl”) is the latest in a long line of filmmakers with no idea how to use actor Chris Pine. The star – best known as Captain James T. Kirk in “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” – is a prime example of a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body, a bubbling cauldron of weirdness waiting to be uncapped.

A few projects have revealed Pine’s naturally demented charisma – Rob Marshall’s superb “Into The Woods,” Joe Carnahan’s not superb “Stretch,” Netflix’s “Wet Hot American Summer” revival” – but he’s continued to be pressed into a traditional movie star box that’s both ill fitting and unfair.

1950s maritime rescue movie “The Finest Hours” sees Pine as restrained as ever, playing straight-laced Coast Guard crewman Bernie Webber, a man shipwrecked between new love and the call of duty. It’s a predictably adequate performance in an adequate movie, both palatable but neither fully realized.

With his fiancée Miriam (Holliday Granger) unaware of the severity of the nor’easter hurtling towards the Massachusetts coastline, Bernie is sent off in a lifeboat to rescue the survivors of a sinking oil tanker, the SS Pendleton. Amidst the snow and ice, Bernie and his crewmates – Richard (Ben Foster), Andrew (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin (John Magaro) – risk it all in a hopeless attempt to not capsize, let alone fit dozens of oilmen into their tiny boat.

Even if Bernie’s backstory is overly familiar, at least he gets one. Engineer turned de facto Pendelton Captain Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) is badly shorted on characterization, as are his men. The screenplay jumps from Bernie and Miriam’s courtship right into the Pendleton being cut in two without any development of its crew. It’s interesting that the focus is on the rescuers rather than the stranded, but the cost of neglecting central characters isn’t worth the risk.

The action scenes themselves are handsome (if occasionally unbelievable, undercutting the “based on a true story” title card), summoning the kind of suspense that so many lost-at-sea movies struggle to get right (case in point: Ron Howard’s feeble “In The Heart Of The Sea”). Thus, the cornball ode-to-the-human-spirit affectations inherent in live-action Disney dramas are backed up here by an immersive quality they typically lack (like Gillespie’s last film, “Million Dollar Arm”).

But as overpowering as the special effects are, they never waterlog the story or swallow up the arc of its hero. Some of that can be attributed to Pine’s innate screen presence (if only he had a bit more to chew on), the rest to a director who knows how make a movie confidently, if not inventively.

There’s a better, deeper movie waiting to be made from the subject matter – one hopefully without Eric Bana’s goofy southern accent in a role that the film doesn’t require – but until then “The Finest Hours” will do just fine, a classic case of good being good enough.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: January 29, 2016
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriter: Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy
Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger, Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, John Ortiz, Eric Bana
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of peril)