On the surface, The Finest Hours doesn’t have a lot going for it. A January release date doesn’t tend to yield high expectations, director Craig Gillespie has fallen under the radar a bit since his 2007 breakout Lars and the Real Girl, and star Chris Pine, with the exception of Star Trek, hasn’t really proven himself as a capital-M, capital-S Movie Star capable of headlining a movie. (Remember Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit? Exactly.)
That said, The Finest Hours is… pretty good, actually. Chris Pine stars as Berbie Webber—oh, I’m sorry, Bernie WEB-ah, as this takes place in Massachusetts—a member of the Coast Guard who, one stormy night in 1952, takes a four-man crew out on the choppy seas to rescue the surviving crew of the oil tanker SS Pendleton, which has somewhat inauspiciously broken in half. Back at home, Bernie’s fiancee Miriam (Holliday Grainger) anxiously waits for her guy to return and berates his boss (Eric Bana) for having sent him out on the suicide mission in the first place. Over on the Pendleton, mechanic Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) rallies his men and engages in some Scotty-like ingenuity to keep the ship afloat long enough for rescue to arrive.
Pine and, in particular, Affleck are both underrated talents, and watching them be competent everyday Joes trying to triumph over adverse circumstances for 117 minutes is pretty compelling. Both men are ‘50s manly men—stoic, hard-working, not very showy, not very vocal. (Sybert on being scared: “I just don’t see the point in sitting around and talking about it.”) It works for Affleck better than it does for Pine, who tries to play the buttoned-up, rule-loving schlub and only mostly pulls it off. I’ve watched Into the Woods, Pine, God dammit. I know you are a charismatic, weirdo freak of nature, and I need there to be a movie that fully lets your freak flag fly. There is honest-to-God a scene where Bernie wonders if Miriam, whom he’s been talking with on the phone at that point but has never actually seen, will like “the look of” him. His best friend rightfully slaps him upside the head for that one, because honestly, you have seen yourself. You look like Chris Pine.
The Finest Hours’ biggest success comes in its more action-y sequences, like Syberg trying to rig a manual tiller for the Pendleton and Bernie taking a 36-foot boat over the deadly Chatham Bar, where waves multiple times higher than the boat he’s on crash over a sandbar during hurricane-force winds. Its biggest failure is the way it keeps cutting back to Miriam, as she worries about Bernie and… does nothing. No, seriously, nothing. It’s like Disney realized Strong Female Characters are all the rage nowadays, so we gotta have a woman, but they forgot to give her any actual substance. Nothing against Holliday Grainger, who comports herself well, but every time The Finest Hours cuts away to Miriam, its otherwise impressive forward momentum gets absolutely torpedoed.
Even with that quite substantial flaw, The Finest Hours is still miles and away better than that other maritime-movie-starring-a-so-hot-right-now-actor-named-Chris, In the Heart of the Sea, which was granted an awards-baiting release date of December 7th and subsequently sunk to the bottom of the ocean. The Finest Hours at least remembered to be entertaining.