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A Perfect Storm of Cliches Sinks The Finest Hours

A stunning true story is overshadowed by a screenplay more concerned with emotional manipulation than narrative integrity.
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A courageous Coast Guard rescue mission hits some choppy waters in The Finest Hours, both in terms of the harrowing true-life tale and this slick film adaptation of the inspirational seafaring adventure.

While the film gives a deserving turn in the spotlight to a quartet of New England sailors who risked their own lives to rescue others, their bravery is overshadowed by a screenplay more concerned with emotional manipulation than narrative integrity.

The story takes place in 1952, when a nasty winter storm — a “nor’easter,” for those from the region — strands a leaking oil tanker several miles off the coast of Cape Cod with limited radio communication to the mainland. It’s up to a reticent engineer (Casey Affleck) to devise the most sensible strategy to wait for a rescue before the ship goes under.

Meanwhile, the nearest Coast Guard station is busy with a second rescue, so when an officer (Eric Bana) gets word of the tanker incident, he’s forced to send a second-tier crew led by Bernie (Chris Pine), a coxswain steering an undersized boat through the nastiest of conditions without a compass.

In addition to its obvious ramifications for the mariners, the ordeal causes plenty of consternation on the home front, where Bernie’s strong-willed fiancée (Holliday Grainger) is among those hopeful of a safe return.

There are some intriguing characters buried in the melodrama, particularly its two lead characters whose heroism runs counter to their timid and passive nature. The film conveys a convincing sense of unspoken camaraderie among those at sea.

The visual approach of director Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm) includes some meticulous period re-creation as well as some seamless 3D effects (including some menacing computer-generated waves) to enhance the stakes on the water.

Indeed, the film’s best sequences are those in the harsh conditions on the high seas, such as the climactic rescue sequence that’s both chaotic and thrilling.

However, the heavy-handed script by a trio of writers suffers from trite dialogue and lacks subtlety in its attempt to fit a crowd-pleasing mold. “Sometimes you go out and you don’t come back,” Bernie warns in an early scene.

As a result, The Finest Hours drowns its compelling source material beneath a series of waterlogged clichés about overcoming personal demons and insurmountable odds. Despite some intermittent tension, the maritime drama doesn’t stay afloat.

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