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Finest Hours, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Does a bit more than what's expected with what it has."
3 stars

Movies like "The Finest Hours" win people Oscars. Not folks like Chris Pine and Carry Affleck, but the guys listed as doing research and development for the visual effects companies at the other end of the closing credits, who spend months researching the motion of large bodies of water and figuring out how to replicate it on-screen while other engineers build state of the art machinery to both safely twist a set in any conceivable direction and precisely record this movement (while being buffeted by wind and rain machines) so that a third set of people can digitally stitch it together. These accomplishments alone aren't enough to rate a ticket purchase today, but they're a big part of why a movie like this can be dismissed as enjoyable but not extraordinary, and they'll be making movies better well after we move on to the next thing at the multiplex.

All of this technology is in service of a story about people pulling off some impressive feats of their own when a storm and the captain's recklessness tears the tanker Pendleton in half off the coast of Massachusetts in 1952. With the ship's control and communication systems down, engineer Ray Sybert (Affleck) hatches a desperate plan to riff up a manual rudder and run what's left of the ship aground, hoping for rescue before the rising water levels flood the engines and render the pumps inoperable. That rescue will have to come from Bernie Webber (Pine), helming a boat small enough that just getting out of the harbor through the waves the storm is kicking up alive is unlikely.

There are, of course, plenty of other things going on around this - it's about a year since Bernie was unable to rescue the crew of another boat in a similar storm; things are getting serious with Miriam (Holliday Grainger), who is modern and assertive in most ways but skittish about the water; some in the Pendleton crew want to take their chances in the lifeboats; and many of them aren't too fond of Sybert - as there must be to create a little bit of space between the dangerous bits and give the audience reason to remember these guys' names. It's basic stuff that shows up in most movies of this type but the screenwriters seem to do better than most in not piling on with events that oversell the story and director Craig Gillespie doesn't emphasize personal drama in a way that implies that this is what's really challenging very often.

That leaves the film free to give most of the attention to the problem at hand once things get started, and they do a good job there. The Finest Hours isn't The Martian in terms of its emphasis on problem-solving, but the filmmakers use the tools of a movie to make sure the audience understands what these guys are up against when others might use more words: As a nautical novice, I don't really get "crossing the bar", but I understand waves, wind, lousy visibility, and "we've lost our compass"; on the other end, the shrinking distance began the waterline and the air intake tubes beats the heck out of any countdown involving numbers. It's small stuff, in some ways, but it's very satisfying to get this stuff through action rather than just words.

The action is fairly decent, too; it's kind of boring to talk about how well today's software renders water, but that's critical here and there are very few moments when one is not likely to believe what one is seeing. The more practical elements work even better; the Pendleton has the crowded feeling of a real ship while also giving the cast and crew room to work. Gillespie stages a few memorable sequences on the seas. The 1950s setting is nicely realized.

Decent cast, too; Casey Affleck and Chris Pine are capable enough in the main roles and the crews of the boat set themselves apart more than the usual interchangeable whtie guys that often populate these movies. Like many things in the movie, they're passable, a little better than usual and average. That won't make it memorable when the tech guys find ways to do their jobs a little better, but it makes "The Finest Hours" pretty good for right now.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=28089&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/05/16 12:43:53
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USA
  29-Jan-2016 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-May-2016

UK
  19-Feb-2016 (12A)

Australia
  29-Jan-2016
  DVD: 24-May-2016


Directed by
  Craig Gillespie

Written by
  Eric Johnson
  Paul Tamasy

Cast
  Chris Pine
  Ben Foster
  Eric Bana
  Kyle Gallner
  Rachel Brosnahan
  Casey Affleck



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