There’s a sense of boxes being ticked off as you watch The Finest Hours. The maritime melodrama is a by the books tale that covers young love, heroes against the odds and small town pride. It’s a churned out production for rousing audience’s hearts. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t derive a certain pleasure from watching it.
Based on a true story, the Craig Gillespie helmed production documents the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. When a terrible storm hits wintry coastal Massachusetts, an oil tanker is split in two, spilling oil and injuring sailors. As the ship’s engineer (Casey Affleck) tries to keep them alive long enough for rescue, a coast guard team led by Bernie (Chris Pine) is sent out in to the storm to help.
Admittedly, it is a film up to its eyeballs in schlocky, wet melodrama. For example, the central relationship between just-engaged Bernie and his fiancée Miriam (Holliday Grainger) is really beaten home with some emotional force. Reminiscent of a classical Hollywood subplot, it’s full of single tears running down cheeks and longing looks in to the distance.
Yet there are some good performances beyond this weepy surface. Casey Affleck gives a solid performance as the disliked engineman who’s married to his beloved ship rather than any human. He’s weary but confident and holds the screen surprisingly well. Pine is also a sturdy leading man, troubled by a previous rescue attempt and afraid of his own capacity to fail. While they may be characters that have been ripped from a book on how to write vintage drama, they are brought to life with just enough spark as to make them watchable.
The most pleasing moments of The Finest Hours come in the scenes at sea. Although there’s not very much visual experimentation being done, the CGI effects offer a suitably thrilling depiction of events. Indeed, the fateful moment the tanker splits on a wave is an enormous spectacle. The waves crash against the ship with a ferocious sense of weight and the way the ship is flung around offers heart-in-mouth stuff.
The Finest Hours isn’t especially inventive, nor is its narrative anything to win awards. It’s a slightly hammy piece of 1950s throwback cinema with a rousing soundtrack, conservative American family values and stock characters. It can’t be denied that it thrills though.