Disney movie review: 'The Finest Hours'
Walt Disney Studios’ “The Finest Hours” delivers an exciting adventure appropriate for families that has enough action sequences to keep audiences on the edges of their seats. What it doesn’t give us, however, is another blockbuster about a tragedy at sea like James Cameron’s dramatically satisfying “Titanic,” and that’s largely due to the lack of character development.
The story certainly has the hallmarks of a Disney movie with its heroic actions and against-all-odds happy ending. “The Finest Hours” is based on a book of the same name by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman that tells the true story of the most daring rescue mission in the history of the Coast Guard.
“In 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England, pummeling towns along the Eastern seaboard and wreaking havoc on the ships caught in its deadly path, including the SS Pendleton, a T-2 oil tanker bound for Boston that was literally ripped in half, trapping more than 30 sailors inside its rapidly-sinking stern. As the senior officer on board, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) soon realizes it is up to him to take charge of the frightened crew and inspire the men to set aside their differences and work together to ride out one of the worst storms to ever hit the East Coast,” according to the film’s official description.
“Meanwhile, as word of the disaster reaches the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Mass., Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) orders a daring operation to rescue the stranded men. Despite overwhelming odds, four men, led by Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), set out in a wooden lifeboat with an ill-equipped engine and little, if any, means of navigation, facing frigid temperatures, 60-foot high waves and hurricane-force winds.”
“The Finest Hours” has many of the same elements as “Titanic,” most notably the story of a doomed ship and its passengers and the romance that introduces us to the main characters. Unfortunately, though, the overall effect is far different. “Titanic” spends the first half of its running time letting us get to know Jack and Rose, as well as many of the secondary characters. We see their forbidden romance progress from flirtations to declarations of love. By the time the Titanic begins to sink, we are fully invested in the film’s characters and feel their desperation.
Not so in “The Finest Hours.” We don’t know much about Bernie (Chris Pine) and Miriam (Holliday Grainger) by the time he heads out to sea to face deadly storms. The movie opens with their first date, and from that we glean that he is a tentative sort of man who likes to follow the rules and she is a bold woman who speaks her mind. These characteristics again become apparent when she proposes to him at a dance and when he leaves on what appears to be an impossible rescue mission. Despite the peril, we just don’t feel much for the separated couple.
The action sequences, however, do inspire us to experience all the feelings of panic, despair and, ultimately, triumph. Certainly these adventure scenes are the strong points of “The Finest Hours.” Director Craig Gillespie (who also directed “Lars and the Real Girl” and the 2011 remake of “Fright Night”) does well with the special effects of a stormy ocean, the tanker breaking apart and the blizzard conditions that make you feel like you are actually a part of those scenes. I saw the movie in 3D, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to enjoy it.
“The Finest Hours” is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of peril.” My 11-year-old and 13-year-old children were not at all bothered by those scenes. Only one man’s death was shown in the film, and it was not depicted in a gory way. Afterward, my son (the older child) commented that he found the death scenes in Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks” to be more disturbing.
And perhaps that’s the crux of “The Finest Hours.” It’s got enough action to entertain audiences of all ages, but not enough detailed drama to affect them – or keep them coming back for another heroic voyage.
DISCLAIMER: I viewed “The Finest Hours” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.