Expert film discussion from completely unqualified people


June 1, 2016

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Redboxing: The Finest Hours

Someone had to see this. Might as well be Rob.

The Finest Hours is a safe, inoffensive, mid-budget action-adventure. Attractive white actors play good-hearted people just trying to do their best in a bad situation. It’s staged and directed competently and by-the-book. There is exactly enough conflict to keep us interested without any aggressive stylizing or moral ambiguity. The entire film is set to medium.

In 1952, the SS Pendleton is split in half by a nor’easter off the coast of New England. Coast Guard crewman Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) leads a skeleton crew of misfits in a daring attempt to rescue the surviving sailors. Meanwhile, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), the Pendleton’s chief engineer, attempts to rally a skeptical and downtrodden crew into the fight of their lives. Back home, Bernie’s fiancee Miriam (Holliday Grainger) waits for word, desperate to see her true love again.

On paper, The Finest Hours is your dad’s favorite movie. Chris Pine stands at the helm of a ship, spins the wheel, and looks determined. Casey Affleck is a diminutive engineer whose selfless ingenuity saves the lives of men who hold him in contempt. There are giant CGI waves and pretty girls crying in medium close-ups. People are told to “hold on!” and “look out!” It’s all very exciting. At least, it should be. Rather than push these heroes to their physical and mental limits, however, the film takes refuge in safe politics and bland ideals. Everyone is a hero and no one is to blame for anything. Webber (apparently our protagonist) sails his ship in a straight line while his men cheer him on. Sometimes they fall into the water, but things mostly work out and everyone always does the right thing. Miriam leads a group of everyday people who help out in Everyday People Ways. Even Sybert’s harassment at the hands of the Pendleton’s curmudgeonly seamen is understandable and even-tempered considering he spends most of the film talking to his shoes. They eventually rally behind him, however, because good people are trusting people, and these are most definitely Good People.

This isn’t to suggest that a group of disciplined and conscientious sailors can’t really work together or that the Pendleton’s incredible story isn’t worthy of a big-screen adaption. But these characters are bland, prosaic lumps who lack the complexity and contradiction of real human beings. Pine and Affleck both play sheepish, detached geniuses, career underdogs who somehow lack any flaws. Grainger is an old-fashioned doll who serves only to give Pine something to literally point his boat at. Eric Bana is completely wasted as Cluff, the Head Idiot in Charge without any real power. A complete lack of character leads to a complete lack of theme - it’s a film that wants to be about bravery, perseverance, and the kind of warm and reassuring love that brings us home to each other every night. Instead, well, it’s just about two hours long. It’s frustrating as a fan of both lead actors to see them wasted in this way, and one can’t help but wonder if this film was some kind of contractual obligation. The Finest Hours banks on the star power and charisma of Chris Pine while simultaneously asking him to leave both at the door. It encourages Casey Affleck, fierce and passionate in the right role, to stare at the floor and sigh with indifference. This leaves us with yet another bloated and lifeless Event Film that serves artifice instead of story or character. There’s absolutely zero chemistry or brotherhood to be found anywhere.

Craig Gillespie (Fright Night 2011, Million Dollar Arm) directs with a workmanlike style common to journeyman filmmakers. There’s a bit of interesting composition here and there, but he’s often hobbled by an over-reliance on mid-budget computer effects and a sleepy tone. The cartoonish action lacks urgency, and none of the characters are provoked past cautious optimism. Javier Aguirresarobe’s soft-focus cinematography invokes that of Janusz Kaminski but lacks his dynamic eye for depth and texture. The entire thing ends up feeling flat and generic. Happy Memorial Day, I guess.

Rob DiCristino writes and podcasts for The Ugly Club (@uglyclubpodcast). Follow him on Twitter @RobDiCristino. He mostly tweets about Ben Affleck.


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