The film opens with Coast Guardsmen Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) on their way to a bar to meet Bernie's blind date, Miriam (Holliday Grainger). Bernie and Miriam have been talking on the telephone for several weeks --- no social media in 1952, so no FaceTime for them --- and Bernie is worried she won't like him, and vice versa.
As they walk into the bar, Bernie asks the lone female sitting on a stool if she's Miriam. The woman, average looking, almost homely, says she is not. Director Craig Gillespie's camera rotates to a phone booth where we see the back of a brunette talking. She hangs up the phone and turns around. Cue Berne's face and his look of astonishment --- he is clearly smitten.
It is at this moment that I begin losing interest in "The Finest Hours". Ms. Grainger is attractive enough, she's actually quite lovely in certain photos. But whether it's her hairdo, her round face --- she is not the knockout that expected. I never bought their love affair. They're engaged only months later when she proposes to him.
I'm generally not this shallow when reviewing a film, but I think it was crucial for Miriam to have a certain appeal, and Grainger doesn't fit the bill. The British actress played one of the evil stepsisters in last year's "Cinderella", and has been in many period pieces. Not a bad resume, but she is miscast here.
Now off to the main plot where Bernie and others, including Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), hear of an oil tanker off Cape Cod, with over 30 men aboard, that is in dire straits amid a vicious storm. A crack in the hull is letting water in at a furious rate, and the ship is sinking.
Webber and three others head out to sea to rescue those in peril, but their small boat only holds 12 people. Conditions are brutal --- intense cold, howling winds, a driving rain, blizzard-like snow, and terrifying waves that threaten to capsize their vessel. One of the crew members on the tanker, the senior officer and chief engineer Raymond Sybert, is played by Casey Affleck. He is disliked by the others, partially because he never goes on deck to interact with them. Affleck is a superb actor whose talents are wasted in this movie. The same can be said of Eric Bana as the head of the Coast Guard station.
"The Finest Hours", based on an actual event, should have been edge-of-the-seat suspenseful, but it is not. Unfortunately, the fact that it is based on a true story doesn't translate into a great film. The special effects involving the gigantic waves are spectacular, though we've seen this kind of thing before.
Three writers collaborated on the screenplay based on the book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias. But there is not the emotional impact in this rescue --- no matter how courageous the real event --- as was generated by "The 33", for example, depicting the plight of Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days.
One fact revealed at the end of "The Finest Hours" is that the real Bernie and Miriam did get married, and remained so for 58 years until Bernie's death in 2009. The book may have been a real page-turner of a truly dramatic happening which the movie fails to capture.
A much better effort along similar lines was the George Clooney/Mark Wahlberg/Diane Lane movie "The Perfect Storm" (2000). In fact, the executive producer of "The Finest Hours" was a producer of that film. Both movies take place in Massachusetts, and the requisite New England accents are in full force. At least the cast of "The Finest Hours" does not butcher my hometown's way of speech like the actors in "The Perfect Storm".
Opinion: Wait for DVD