Shame on Disney for taking a heroic true story and drowning it in cartoonish accents and unlikable characters.
On February 18th, 1952, a massive storm hit the North Eastern coast of the US, snapping not one, but TWO oil tankers in half. The Fort Mercer was the first, and was able to issue a SOS call. All available resources were sent to its rescue 20 miles off shore. Unfortunately for the survivors of the Pendleton, the split was so sudden power was lost before any call for help was sent. Eventually the coast guard station in Chatham,Massachusetts became aware of the segmented vessel and sent a three man crew in a tiny lifeboat out into the darkness to attempt a rescue.
One of the high points of “The Finest Hours” is the wonderful cast that was assembled. Chris Pine is in the lead role of coxswain (what a terrible title for a boat-steerer) Bernie Webber. Eric Bana plays Webber’s commanding office at the Coast Guard, Casey Affleck is Ray Sybery, engineer of the Pendleton. Additional familiar faces include Ben Foster, Graham McTavish, Abraham Benrubi, John Ortiz and Holliday Grainger. Also impressive is the Engine Room set for the Pendleton. Director Craig Gillespie wisely milks this set for every penny it’s worth. The camera swoops down the multi-floor room and around machinery as the floor is steadily submerged in seawater. He creates a perfect sense of “space.” We know where the men are in this room, what they are doing, and how it connects to other critical rooms in the remaining half of the ship. Gillespie also creates the perfect early 50’s ambiance during all the land scenes. It becomes apparent that he pulled out every trick he had to save this film from its dreadful script. When movie has THREE credited screenplay writers in addition to the two book authors, you know it’s going to have trouble.
The biggest problem with the script, is none of the characters are very likable. The film is saturated with crippling male insecurity, which is very odd considering it’s supposed to be a tale of heroes and survival. NONE of the main male characters in this film are confident in the choices they make or the orders they give to other men…until they suddenly are. More than one character suffers from abrupt personality changes, which you could say occur just to advance the plot, except you wonder why they were written so weak to begin with? It’s a staple in basic script writing that your main characters need to go on a journey of personal growth. Unfortunately this script is the cliff-notes version of that concept. The men are unrealistically weak, and in a snap moment become confident. It’s too extreme, too fast, and to prevalent. Conversely, Webber’s fiance Miriam is intended to be a strong female character, but instead comes off as a touch insane. With her multiple phone calls to his work every day and even telling off his superiors (that she’s never met before), any man in his right mind would run for the hills! Their relationship is intended to be sweet and inexperienced, but instead it comes across as awkward and annoying. (Fun Fact: In reality they were already married, and she was in bed sick the entire duration of the rescue. Once making it back to land he didn’t even return home for a few more days!) It’s also regrettable that the characters speak with such a goofy menagerie of accents it would make Tom Hardy blush. Apparently Eric Bana’s character really was known for his overuse of “ya hear”, but it just doesn’t play well in a movie where everyone already sounds like a cartoon character.
Chris Pine is a great actor, and it’s a pleasure to see him in this film, but he is most certainly miscast for the version of the character he was asked to play. The guy that has been Jack Ryan, uber-arrogant Rex Hanson (Horrible Bosses 2), and Captain JAMES T. KIRK, portrays Webber as a quiet, unsure man, who spends the majority of the time looking at the floor and speaking under his breath. When Cluff sends him out on the rescue mission to his likely death, we don’t get any sense of heroism from Webber. Instead it looks more like a man who is sadly accepting his fate and would rather face death than any additional shame. He talks about following regulations and doing the right thing, but they feel more like excuses. It’s hard to say if the real life Webber was like this as well, but regardless it doesn’t make for a very compelling character.
For more information on the true story of the Pendleton, be sure to check out: