In February 1952, U.S. Coast Guard petty officer Bernie Webber pulled off what the service still considers its greatest small-boat rescue ever, when he captained a tiny motor boat at nighttime into the worst storm Cape Cod had ever seen to pick up 32 crewmembers of the oil tanker SS Pendleton, which had broken in half in very rough seas and was sinking. Sounds like the stuff of a rollicking movie… which makes it strange indeed that The Finest Hours is so oddly undramatic. The most engaging bits are set on the foundering tanker, where engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) is MacGyvering ways to keep the ship afloat; being chopped in half isn’t its only problem, though seeing half a ship floating in the Atlantic is incredibly intense, especially in 3D IMAX, as I saw the film. Affleck is the very best reason to see this (as is also true of Triple 9; he’s on a roll at the moment): he looks like a Golden Age screen god here, and he exudes a classic cinematic masculinity, all laconic and pragmatic can-do; the actor moves to a whole new level of presence and performance with this role. Alas that the rest of the film feels old-fashioned in ways that are downright stodgy. Instead of focusing on the inherent drama of the storm and the rescue, the spectacularly uninvolving script — by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, none of whom have written anything like this sort of movie before — spends an inordinate amount of time attempting to create conflict around Webber’s fiancée (Holliday Grainger: Cinderella) making a nuisance of herself back on land with Webber’s commanding officer (Eric Bana: Deliver Us from Evil). This is partly a way for the movie — directed by Craig Gillespie (Fright Night), who also has not made a film of this scope before — to explain the mechanics of the rescue… but Hours fails at that, too. All the while as Webber (Chris Pine: Horrible Bosses 2) is struggling out on the dangerous sea, heading toward the tanker’s location, we are left to wonder just how the heck so many tanker crewmen are going to fit on this very little boat. Is Webber risking his life (and that of his fellow rescuers) for nothing? Real life may have had a happy ending, but the movie should not consider it a foregone conclusion.
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