Film Reviews


By • Jan 29th, 2016 •

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Great special effects but no one showed one sign of being in a blizzard. Unnecessary love story is laughable.

THE FINEST HOURS is a true story unnecessarily “enhanced” by the need for a woman’s role that is not just the sweet 50’s fiancé standing by her sexless, by-the-book man.

In the winter of 1952 a nor’easter along the Eastern Seaboard caused an oil tanker to split in half. A rescue team was sent out. Then news arrived that another oil tanker, the 506-foot Pendleton, was sinking.

The Chatham Coast Guard station was recently put under the command of Daniel Cluff (Bana) and his inexperience is mocked by the veterans. Webber orders Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to put a crew together. With Andy (Kyle Gallner), Ervin (John Magaro) and Richard (Ben Foster), they go into the storm in a 36-foot motorized lifeboat. It was deemed an impossible mission by the men who lived and fished in Cape Cod. In fact, they told the straight arrow Bernie to just cruise around the harbor and return.

What kind of a man attempts such a clearly drawn suicide mission? Bernie, even though he is movie star good looking (it is mentioned twice!), has a demeanor so bland he is lost among the old fishermen who hang around the station.

Now that the movie studios are faced with complaints about the lack of female parts, even the tiniest female role is intentionally elevated. A 50’s young woman just dedicated to marrying her boyfriend might be too old-fashioned for today’s audiences.

Bernie’s secret fiancée, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), is written not as a homespun telephone operator but as a spunky firebrand. Miriam asked Bernie to marry her and on the night of the storm, it is she – the only person fearless enough to actually confront Bernie’s boss – to demand he stop the rescue.

I don’t know why the screenwriters, Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, didn’t just put Miriam on the boat.

Instead, they made Miriam impervious to snow, freezing weather, and fearlessly walking in heels on ice.

When Cluff tells her to leave his office, Miriam rushes out in the snow without a coat and without her purse. What woman does that? She is supposed to have lived her whole life on the Cape but she has no winter clothes! No gloves, hat, scarf or rubber boots. It’s snowing but her face never shows the slightest bit of cold. Miriam, or anyone one else for that matter, never shows a sign of freezing in such terrible weather.

In fact, the freezing ocean, the flooding and the constant snow, does not even affect anyone on the Pendleton!

When you see the men on the Pendleton in soaking wet clothes, what comes to mind is – what are the conditions suitable for dying from hypothermia?

What is happening on the Pendleton? When the captain refuses the constant pleas of tanker engineer Raymond Sybert (Casey Affleck) to allow him to slow down the ship, all hell breaks loose. A portion of the tanker breaks off. There must be conflict, so one lone voice attempts a mutiny – he wants to get off the damn sinking ship and into the sole lifeboat. When that plan ends disastrously, the entire crew sets about following Raymond’s commands. As the ocean water floods into the ship, the soaking wet men seem immune. They work waist deep in water without a stitch of rain gear on. You would think there would be a raincoat around or an umbrella. No one shivers or has a red face!

How long can a person survive in freezing water? The United States Search and Rescue Task Force has a risk list for when hypothermia might set in if you are submersed in water: If the water temperature is 32 degrees or below, the time until exhaustion or unconsciousness is less than 15 minutes. Expected time of survival in the water is less than 15 to 45 minutes.

How long can a person survive in soaking wet clothes in the winter during a storm? Bernie chooses not to wear a life jacket. He does not have a windbreaker or a raincoat.

Since the Pendleton’s captain and seven other crewmen were on the part of the tanker that split apart and fell into the sea, Raymond becomes the leader to the remaining 32-man crew. His plan is unique and has something to do with the tiller and running the ship aground. That gives them 4 to 5 hours before sinking. All they can do is keep blasting the ship’s horn and hope someone hears it and comes to rescue them.

Bernie and his crew are facing 60-foot waves and several times their boat goes underwater and then when it comes up, it has lost its compass, windshield and covering. They are facing something called ‘the bar”. Everyone is soaking wet but no one is cold.

And notwithstanding that they are hurling around in a vicious storm that just broke two tankers apart, Bernie does not even have to shout to be heard. It was as if it was the perfect time for philosophical musings on the meaning of life!

After an hour, Bernie and his crew reach the pitching and bouncing hulk of the Pendleton.
Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe never achieves a freezing cold environment – as I said, no one looks a bit cold – yet the special effects were impressive, especially the harrowing ride to the Pendleton. It was pretty exciting but again, could the men survive going underwater several times and come up soaking wet without any disastrous effects?

What Hollywood lot did they film the Cape Cod scenes?

The intrusion of Miriam nearly stopped the movie from advancing. To fatten Grainger’s role, the filmmakers have her driving off haphazardly in the snow (on a road Miriam should know all too well) and then skidding into a snow bank. She is helped by a very angry young woman which gives Grainger an extra unnecessary scene. I understand the problem of the “girlfriend/wife” part. Besides pledging her love to her man and shedding a few tears as he faces danger, what else can she do to show her relevancy? The screenwriters give Grainger a few “showcase” scenes that interrupt the drama on the high seas.

I’m not suggesting that the screenwriters should have made Miriam a secret alcoholic, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a girlfriend is just a girlfriend.

Simply put, Miriam was annoying.

Pine steps out of his fantasy roles to play an ordinary guy thrust in an extraordinary event and he tries. The role could have allowed Pine to instill a quiet charisma and a tad respect from the other men. Instead, he’s just dull. Risking his life and that of the guys he took on the mission was not heroic – he was just doing his job. Pine should have played the role with sly underlying edge showing a love for adventure and the thrill of sailing into a blizzard.

Affleck is the only one to come across unscathed. He’s finally gained “gravitas” (I know – it’s such a pretentious word but appropriate here) and takes this small role and carries his part of the story. Perhaps THE FINEST HOURS director, Craig Gillespie, should have spent more time on the tough, hardened men on board the sinking tanker – which would have made a far more dramatic storyline – than the limp love story.

In all Hollywood crisis movies, everybody just stands around meekly waiting for the reluctant hero to offer a risky plan. Is this what really happens in a crisis of this magnitude? (While standing for five minutes during the Mandatory Passenger Emergency Drill on a recent cruise, I left my assembled group and, leaning against the rail, started preaching revolt: Why are all the old people being forced to stand and wait for the couple who are taking their time to get here? If this was a real emergency, I’d be saying, ‘Let’s leave them behind.’ And why is the roll call taking 40 minutes? Why is the man next to me – an 83-year-old man gripping a walker – made to stand in the heat?)

Grainger’s face is so unusual it captures every scene she is in regardless of who her scene partner is. It is a one-expression face that is emotionless and trained to be still and just admired. Grainger is beautiful but sometimes that is not enough for dramatic film acting.

Bana does not need to act his part as an outsider. He appears confused and uncertain how to play his part. Perhaps his role was bigger but cut in post-production. Foster – I’m a fan – is completely wasted. Did Foster have a few weeks with nothing to do and needed a role that encased him with a lot of outerwear? He seems to have gained weight and it has aged him. Foster’s boyish terror so wonderfully expressed in 3:10 TO YUMA is behind him.

The credits are worth staying for. The real crewmen are shown and the director has admirably staged many of the scenes exactly as they were photographed in the 50s. The original photos and the film’s stills are placed side-by-side.

As I did, it is best to see THE FINEST HOURS in 3D to appreciate the exciting ocean scenes which are terrific.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at

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2 Responses »

  1. Victoria, we just came back from seeing this movie and I wanted to see what others thought about it. It was definitely uplifting but the acting style, the fake, slow-moving romance scenes, the bland hero and the lack of obvious cold bothered me. I happened on your review and couldn’t agree more! You put into words exactly what I was feeling about the movie.
    I had to laugh out loud at the exactness of your comments to my impressions!

  2. Hey Davii, Thanks so much for your kind comments. Keep reading me. I’ll get you mad eventually! Victoria

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