The Hollywood hills must be alive with the sound of actors cursing Leonardo DiCaprio. Now he’s put himself through freezing cold conditions, stopped his own heart four times and worn a beehive for a hat to make The Revenant believable, what are the rest of them supposed to do? The true-life endurance drama is now the territory of those prepared to put themselves through hell, and nothing else will cut it. If Chris Pine’s bothered about this, he doesn’t show it much. A couple of buckets of water in the face in front of a green-screen is about all he’s had to put up with here.
Fair’s fair, you can’t very well judge a film on how rough a time the actors had making it. But no one in The Finest Hours, Disney’s crack at re-enacting the US Coast Guard’s famous 1952 rescue of the sailors aboard the SS Pendleton, looks like they’ve had to go through much more than the inconvenience of having to dry their socks on the radiator afterwards, and it has an effect. By all accounts this was a feat of improbable bravery and heroism but the Disney treatment has neatly filed off all the edges, leaving it bland and emotionless.
Now, there’s edge and there’s edge, and I didn’t expect blood and guts in a 12A; just enough to suggest peril. Because it looks to have been pretty flipping perilous. The Pendleton literally split in half during a severe storm, leaving Casey Affleck’s chief engineer Ray Sybert to attempt to run her aground as a last resort. Pine’s Bernie Webber of the Coast Guard leads a team of three in a seemingly tiny lifeboat on what everyone refers to as a suicide mission to save the crew. These guys are sailors in the early 1950s in the worst conditions imaginable, and none of them swears, smokes a cigarette or is even marginally ‘salty’.
Call these insignificant details if you like, but they add up to a sanitised impression of events. Pine’s heroic arc, framed with a love story around this being the day he’s to ask his station commander’s permission to marry Miriam (Holliday Grainger), is the bit that’s been really undersold. He steers his boat out to sea, constantly having to ride over massive waves that crash down on them, even sending them fully underwater for a few seconds, leaving everyone a bit soggy but all standing in the same position and basically fine, like if you’d dunked a boat of Lego men in the bath. It made me think of Cast Away, and Chuck Noland’s final, desperate break for home on his makeshift raft, and how it felt like he actually might die.
None of this is helped by the feeling that bits are missing. It’s suggested early on that Webber once dropped the ball on a rescue mission which resulted in a woman’s death, but it’s left at a hint, disqualifying the film from using it as motivation for his determined trip. Casey Affleck – his performance the best thing in it by some distance – is set up as a model of calm ingenuity under pressure, and we’re told that he knows the ship inside out, but his big idea to take advantage of the machinery on board to let them hand-steer half an oil tanker and keep her afloat doesn’t come across half as brilliant as it sounds. Some more shots showing metal slotting into place, gears grinding, cogs whirring and so on might’ve given us more of this impression.
Still, it’s heartening that Disney release films like this. For something with a middling budget of $70–80 million it doesn’t feature any marquee stars (Pine, while a fairly big name, isn’t one that gets anyone into a cinema), its director Craig Gillespie hasn’t handled a big effects picture before and it has zero franchise potential. It’s a risk, at a time when studios are all about safe bets. I’d like to see it do well for this, but I can’t figure out who its audience is supposed to be.
The Finest Hours is in UK cinemas from Friday.
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