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The Finest Hours' not so fine

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Historical rescue drama mostly mediocre

The moviegoing public has always had an affinity for films that are based on a true story. Of course, there's always a degree of interpretation and dramatic license that goes into bringing those narratives to the big screen too often, reality simply isn't deemed interesting enough.

'The Finest Hours' is an example of a movie that seemingly sticks fairly closely to its original source material. The story of a 1952 Coast Guard rescue operation off the Massachusetts coast has plenty to recommend it, with heroic actions in the face of overwhelming odds and the uncaring rage of Mother Nature and all of that.

Alas, while the pieces are there for something really good, the end result is ultimately less than memorable.

'The Finest Hours' is really two stories. Bernie Webber (Chris Pine, 'Z for Zachariah') is a by-the-book Coast Guard sailor operating out of a station in Chatham, Massachusetts. His main duties include rescue operations for fishermen and the like who encounter trouble while at sea. His girl Miriam (Holliday Grainger, 'Cinderella') is waiting for him to officially make her his fiance.

Meanwhile, at sea, an oil tanker has been torn apart by a raging storm. Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck, 'Manchester by the Sea') is the one man who knows enough about the boat to come up with a plan to keep his section of the boat afloat long enough to keep him and the rest of the remaining crew alive and give any rescue efforts a chance to reach them.

Bernie's commander, Chief Warrant Officer Cluff (Eric Bana, 'Deliver Us from Evil') decides that, despite the dangerous conditions, that Bernie must assemble a crew and lead a rescue effort. Despite the huge risks, Richard Livesey (Ben Foster, 'The Program'), Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner, 'Band of Robbers') and Ervin Maske (John Magaro, 'The Big Short') all volunteer to join Bernie's team.

In the midst of the storm, Ray and the rest are forced to continue improvising solutions in an effort to stay alive long enough to be found by rescuers whose very existence is doubted by many of them. Despite resistance, Ray formulates a plan that will hopefully give them a chance at survival.

These two storylines gradually find their way together as Bernie and his crew struggle through raging seas and raging doubts, refusing to give up their quest to find and save the men on that ill-fated oil tanker. Two very different men, each reluctantly taking the lives of others into their capable, yet questioning, hands.

There's no question that this story is a compelling one this rescue is still considered to be the greatest in Coast Guard history but 'The Finest Hours' never quite manages to do it justice.

Perhaps the biggest issue is with the film's pacing. The events simply unfold too slowly, leading to an overbuild of tension that can't help but be released before the intended moment. Bouncing from storyline to storyline never quite achieves the desired effect; each separate narrative is lessened rather than enhanced by the choice.

The performances are surprisingly bland considering the level of talent involved. Pine is fine as Bernie Webber; he's a vanilla guy playing a vanilla guy. He's not particularly expressive and his chemistry with Grainger is largely absent. Affleck is basically a blank slate with the words 'Boat Expert' printed on it; he just doesn't bring anything to the table. There's practically nothing there, leading to some difficulty with regards to audience empathy. Foster's super-talented, but he doesn't have much to go on. Bana's whole performance is built on an off-key accent. As for the rest, they're basically unmemorable not bad, not good, not anything.

There's some impressive effects work the tanker stuff and the rescue effort are pretty cool to watch. The sequences in the torn-apart tanker actually come the closest to generating real excitement, but even then, the tension is overworked to a level that an audience simply can't maintain.

It's a shame, really this is a story that really deserves to be told (regardless of the narrative liberties that might have been taken). Unfortunately, director Craig Gillespie fails to match even the so-so heights of his previous based-on-a-true-story Disney effort 'Million Dollar Arm.' It's not a bad movie, but neither is it one that needs to be actively sought out.

In short, 'The Finest Hours' fails to live up to the superlative in its title.

[2.5 out of 5]

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