Calling a movie “immersive” is a well-worn cliche of the reviewer’s game. I’ve been guilty of using it myself from time to time in discussing pictures that take you over, draw in you, drown you in their imagery.
That said, if ever a picture deserves to be described as immersive, “The Finest Hours” is that picture.
There’s water, water everywhere in this tale of seafaring men in most dire circumstances. Water pouring from the sky in drenching sheets of rain. Water gushing into a stricken tanker, torn in half in storm-tossed seas, with its aft section somehow precariously afloat, while its bow and skipper and officers all disappear down to Davy Jones’ locker.
And above all, water mounding up to terrifying heights in the form of — what I believe is the technical term for the phenomenon — big freaking waves.
This is a true story of extreme heroism, taking place in February 1952, when the tanker Pendleton was ripped apart off the coast of Cape Cod, and a four-man crew of Coast Guardsmen was dispatched in a cockleshell rescue boat to try to save 33 survivors aboard the sinking hulk. Going out in that storm seems like a suicide mission, but when duty calls the Coast Guardsmen venture out despite their well-founded fears that they might not come back.
The storm effects are first rate, immersive all the way. The tale-telling ability of director Craig Gillespie is frustratingly inconsistent.
Gillespie is at pains to humanize the principal characters, which results in the picture being slow getting off the ground as he devotes an inordinate amount of time to showing how Bernie (Chris Pine), the by-the-rules straight-shooter skipper of the rescue boat, falls for and becomes engaged to a self-possessed young woman named Miriam (Holliday Grainger).
Eventually, the action moves offshore to the tanker, where Casey Affleck gives the movie’s most interesting performance as a resourceful crewman who comes up with inventive makeshift mechanical ways to keep the ship afloat until rescue arrives. There’s a lot going on behind his eyes, unlike most of the other characters (including Bernie) where every emotion is out on the surface.
The New England accents are broad and uncertain, while the background music is poundingly excessive, hammering the eardrums almost as hard as the waves hammer the vessels. And whenever the action shifts to the shore for scenes of Miriam imploring Bernie’s commander to call off the rescue, the picture stops dead in its tracks.
So it’s those scenes at sea that are the finest moments in “The Finest Hours.”
The Finest Hours
☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger and Eric Bana.
Director: Craig Gillespie.
Running time: 1:49.
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of peril.