If You Like Wet Dudes on Boats, You'll Like 'The Finest Hours'
There comes a time in every square-jawed male actor’s life when he must get wet. Before he fought bears, Leonardo DiCaprio battled water and wind machines in James Cameron's Titanic. George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg were pummeled by gigantic CGI waves in 2000's The Perfect Storm. Just a few months back, Chris Hemsworth got his Moby-Dick on for In the Heart of the Sea. Emoting While Drenched: it's the Ice Bucket Challenge for aspiring Brandos.
Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are the next volunteers to get dunked, in Disney's The Finest Hours, a sturdy throwback adventure drama about a 1952 US Coast Guard rescue mission near Cape Cod. And to add an extra level of difficulty to the proceedings? They have to do BAH-STON accents straight out of The DE-PAHTED. Let the games begin!
The storm's a-brewing
As the movie opens, we meet Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Pine), a shy, clumsy oaf who tells his a date he just met that he's mistaken her for Smokey the Bear because she's wearing a fur coat. He says things like "Rules are rules" and looks like he irons his socks. It's a tough role for Pine, who relies on his sexy bad-boy smirk to charm his way through blockbusters like Star Trek and that Jack Ryan movie you already forgot about. Forced to play a shy, introverted character, he struggles to make Bernie's conflicted interior life rise to the surface.
Similarly, director Craig Gillespie, the workman-like helmer of the 2014 baseball movie Million Dollar Arm, has trouble making the old-fashioned romantic yearning of the first 20 minutes feel lived in. While the script, penned by the same team of writers who wrote The Fighter, has a sense of regional authenticity to it, as well as a dark, playful sense of humor, the land-locked scenes have a stilted, made-for-cable quality to them.
The incredibly charming and impeccably named Holliday Grainger does her best as Webber's aforementioned Smokey the Bear girlfriend, but she only gets one good scene, an extended throwdown with the Coast Guard chief (Eric Bana, wielding a Southern accent like the Hulk throws tanks). But the writers seem unsure of how important she is to the story. At one point, she drives into a snowy ditch and the movie seems content to leave her there forever.
Rain! Thunder! Accents!
Yes, this film oozes testosterone. There's a storm! And acting! Manly, tic-filled acting! The type of acting that puts hair on your chest and takes you out for a nice steak dinner! Besides Bana and Pine, the movie is packed with character actors like Ben Foster, Graham McTavish, and Abraham Benrubi, who all clearly relish the chance to yell over the sound of banging wrenches and bursting pipes.
But most of the capital-A acting comes courtesy of Casey Affleck. Batman's younger sibling has always been a welcome, understated screen presence -- he was excellent in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and in his bro's directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone -- but he's never been quite as affect-filled as he is here as first assistant engineer Ray Sybert. He mumbles. He looks at the ground. He slowly cracks an egg as he delivers monologues.
Though it can sometimes seem like he's been parachuted in from a better movie, Affleck is the reason the oil-tanker sections work so well. Unburdened with playing the romantic lead -- one of his shipmates describes him as "practically married" to the boat -- he seems to be channeling the mannered, oddball energy of his I'm Still Here collaborator Joaquin Phoenix. It's the type of strange performance that enlivens an otherwise sinking ship.
Bring on the CGI waves!
And this ship is sinking: Affleck's oil tanker, the S.S. Pendleton, is torn in half by epic, pulsating waves that would make the Red Sea blush. The movie cuts back and forth between Affleck's frantic, jargon filled attempts to keep the tanker afloat and Pine's ragtag group of sailors as they navigate tricky waters in a wooden lifeboat. Luckily, the movie doesn't disappoint on the special-effects front: these CGI waves are big and scary. Pine's boat looks like a crappy jet ski from Wave Race 64 trying to pass through a hurricane. It's occasionally thrilling, and, as it draws closer to the conclusion, the movie does take on a Spielberg-ian grandeur.
"We are too far," Pine tells his crew at one point. "We're not giving up on them. Not on my watch." I don't have kids, but, if I ever do, I know I will force them to watch this scene as it plays on TNT during a rainy Sunday afternoon. I'll tell them how back in my day we had brave actors who spent hours on sound stages getting sprayed by giant hoses. We had real men willing to mess up their hair by wearing knit caps. And then, I'll probably change the channel -- honestly, one trip in these rather predictable waters was enough for me.
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