The rescue boat for a sinking ocean liner ends up without a compass during the mission, and most of the audience could use a similar guide in order to understand what is going on in The Finest Hours. Perhaps those with a Boston/New England accent will comprehend more, but unless they are familiar with nautical terms and have sharp ears for dialog over the cacophony of special effects sounds, I think they too will be mystified at least part of the time.
We get acquainted right away with Bernie Webber (Pine) and his friend Richard Livesay (Foster) as members of the Coast Guard in Massachusetts. They’re easygoing and likeable, and Bernie has a reputation for going by the book. He finds it easy to be polite and respectful of his elders and his superior, Captain Daniel Cluff (Bana), a man not well respected by the Coast Guard crew, who doubt his judgment.
This is exemplified by his order for Webber to put together at great risk a rescue team on a 36-foot boat when a brutal nor’easter strikes and oilers at sea are sinking, one in particular being the Pendleton. Chief Engineer Ray Sybert (Affleck) is on that ship, and since all the commanding officers were on the part of the ship broken off by hurricane strength winds and stormy seas, his knowledge of sailing makes him the effective leader.
The Finest Hours is based on a true story written down by Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman in a book with the same title. Even a small sample of their clearly written prose pulls the reader in immediately and sustains his/her attention. The movie, The Finest Hours suffers from the screenwriters (Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson) and Director Craig Gillespie not realizing that a naïve audience is not going to understand the technical terms that are indistinctly shouted out, even if they could hear them over the din of the rushing sea, howling winds, clanking of huge chains, and motor sounds. We do get some of the heroics of the Webber and Sybert characters—remarkable with the Doubting Thomases surrounding them—but not to the extent that makes it clear what is happening in a scene. Inserting some explanations along the way—perhaps voiced by other characters—would have been helpful.
Instead, the script calls for the insertion of a rather silly love story with the female character clearly being drawn from male concepts of what a “strong” woman would do (e.g., propose to a man, think that she could cheekily appeal to a captain on an emotional basis, and then flounce off in a huff, leaving her coat and gloves behind during a winter storm!). Of course, this character (unfortunately for the actress, Holliday Grainger) ends up being rather unlikeable.
The Finest Hours is in 3D, but I couldn’t see that it made that much of a difference. Carter Burwell’s music and Javier Aguirresarobe’s cinematography do elevate the presentation of this film.
A film primarily for northeastern sea lovers; for the rest of us, it’s mainly continuous howling winds and stormy seas.