Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bland on land; better at sea

In the rescue film The Finest Hours, it's the storm that stars.

In 1952, a small Coast Guard team attempted to rescue members of the crew of an oil tanker that had been sheared in half during a vicious winter storm off the Cape Cod coast.

This story of heroism and high seas adventure makes a natural movie subject, and for the most part, Disney's The Finest Hours gives it decent enough treatment. Moreover, the fact that the story may be unfamiliar to most audiences adds a bit of freshness.

It's also true that The Finest Hours can tend toward blandness whenever the crew of a small boat isn't battling the ferocious waves of a nor-easter as it tries, in what seems to a doomed mission, to make its way out of a harbor and into storm-tossed seas.

Chris Pine plays Bernie Webber, a by-the-book member of the Coast Guard, which -- in the movie -- seems like a cottage industry staffed by locals who know the potentially treacherous Atlantic coastal waters.

Pine goes for all-American, cereal-box steadiness, and, achieves it, perhaps the point of boredom.

The rest of his three-man crew are mostly treated as props along for a February ride that -- if nothing else -- leaves you feeling chilled to the bone.

Ben Foster, an actor capable of high intensity, is pretty much wasted as one of the crew's members, and Eric Bana, with a southern accent, doesn't do much to distinguish himself as the Coast Guard station's commander. He's clearly ignorant about New England waters, but insists on having his way.

The fate of the ship that's under duress lies in the hands of a boiler-room engineer, Casey Affleck's Ray Sybert. After the ship -- The Pendleton, by name -- breaks apart, the stoic Sybert must convince his comrades that their best opportunity for survival rests on running the ship aground.

Sybert's shipmates don't trust him, and some argue that everyone should take to the lifeboats, a move that would bring about instant death in impossibly rough waters.

Affleck is not an easy actor to cast; here, his quiet brooding turns him into the movie's least routine character. Eventually Sybert figures out a way to maneuver what's left of the ship toward a shoal.

Holliday Grainger turns up as Miriam, a love interest for Pine's Bernie. She cajoles him into an engagement for which he professes not to be ready, and then spends the rest of the movie worrying that he'll be lost conducting a rescue mission that the town's craggy older residents believe is ill-advised.

Director Craig Gillespie too often leaves the high seas to follow Miriam's efforts to discover what's happening to her fiancé.

But in a way, none of what I've just said matters all that much because images of half of a four-story ship tossing in the seas or of a 36-foot boat trying to make it out of the harbor to find the lost vessel are what count the most.

The movie's ocean sequences are good enough to make The Finest Hours an acceptable -- if not great -- piece of January entertainment.

A footnote: I got no extra kick from the 3D presentation; The CGI storm was enough to hold my interest.

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