The Finest Hours: Riveting film on sea gets waterlogged on land

Capturing true heroism – and not simply the superhero-ism of Marvel movies and the like – on film is a tricky task.

Directors must find a difficult balance between effective cinematic storytelling and staying faithful to the real life events, which proves troublesome when the events a film is retelling can’t make up the entirety of a two-hour adventure.

It’s a problem that Michael Bay struggled with early in “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and one director Craig Gillespie tackles in the uneven “The Finest Hours,” now in theaters from Walt Disney Pictures.

Chris Pine and Casey Affleck star in the “based on a true story” account of a small four-man Coast Guard team tasked with rescuing the crew of a large tanker boat broken in half by torrential weather on the high seas outside of Boston.

If there’s a reason to make sure and see “The Finest Hours” in theaters, it has to be the stunning special effects work done to create the film’s biggest character, a near-hurricane level storm called a nor’easter that rips apart several large T-2 oil tankers, including the S.S. Pendleton carrying Affleck’s Sybert and 32 other men.

“The Finest Hours” does the most effective job of visually capturing seafaring tales since 2000’s “The Perfect Storm,” a similar film about Boston-area fishermen trapped in a nor’easter and a hurricane. Moments on the Pendleton’s deck as well as on the Coast Guard’s small motor life boat achieve a pitch perfect level of tension and anticipation as viewers are thrust right into the heart of the storm, even though we never really get to witness the full fury of the sea that led to the Pendleton breaking apart.

The film suffers in its darkest lighting, with the deep blacks of the sky and ocean at night making it almost impossible for viewers to fully grasp the depth of the crewmen’s plight.

Pine offers a competent performance as young Coast Guard officer Bernard Webber, tasked with leading a team to save the stranded crew of the Pendleton, though in scenes out of the water, it often feels as if Pine is coasting through the material on cruise control, especially when it comes to his halfhearted attempt at Boston cadence.

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Affleck, on the other hand, feels right at home in a quiet, yet powerful effort as Sybert, an engine room technician thrust into a leadership role when his captain goes down with the other half of the ship.

His workmanlike gravitas gives a sense of authenticity among a crew filled with stereotypes – the cook singing “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls,” the young hand afraid of water and the brash veteran who disagrees with decisions just to be disagreeable. Affleck proves to be the best actor in the film by a wide margin and it shows in nearly every scene.

Veteran character actor Eric Bana muddles his way through a lackluster performance as the film’s secondary antagonist (behind the storm itself), a U.S. Coast Guard officer who orders Pine’s Webber and his crew out and sports an ineffective, lazy Southern drawl. Needless to say, outside of Affleck’s natural Boston intonation, accents aren’t a strong suit among the cast.

In order to tie everything happening on the water back to the loved ones waiting on shore, “Finest Hours” screenwriters Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson insert a mild romantic element into the film, unnecessarily driving a third storyline into the mix to pull screen time away from the men aboard the Pendleton and the Coast Guard crew desperately trying to save them.

This isn’t to say that newcomer Holliday Grainger isn’t effective in her role as Webber’s love interest turned fiancée Miriam, but rather that this extraneous portion of the film slows “The Finest Hours” down and adds a good 20 minutes to an already long two-hour running time.

“The Finest Hours” is a competently, largely effective historical drama of survival and bravery, though largely un-memorable outside of the most harrowing moments of the storm.

While a trip to the theaters to experience the power of the seas shouldn’t be out of the question, viewers could just as easily wait to catch Gillespie’s film on basic cable by the end of the year and not miss out on much.

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