Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Finest Hours (2016) - Movie Review

The plot: Off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts, the oil tanker SS Pendleton has been savaged by the storm and lost half of its crew and even half of the ship itself. However, as the majority of the crew of the nearby Coast Guard station are busy rescuing the similarly capsized SS Fort Mercer, chances of them being saved appear slim. However, remaining crewman Bernie (Chris Pine) gathers a group of four to head out and try and save the crew of the Pendleton.

Considering the core drama involving rescuing seafarers from a damaged oil tanker, this film might have one of the worser openings to lead into that. The first ten or twenty minutes are dedicated to Bernie’s relationship with Miriam (Holliday Grainger), their meet-cute and what eventually becomes a running joke about Bernie needing to ask his commanding officer’s permission to marry her. Now, under regular circumstances, this would be the lead-up to some standard emotional drama intertwined with the rescue drama. Unfortunately, it seems like the filmmakers hadn’t even gotten that far because not only does this introduction ultimately serve no real purpose to the overall film, but neither does Miriam. I am convinced that the only reason that she exists within the film itself is to bulk up its running time because it is kind of ridiculous how badly she’s inserted into the plot. Every time she turns up, inter-cutting the actual film with each instance, it’s as if both the surrounding cast and even she realise that she has no real reason to be there.

This strange sense of self-awareness carries over into some of the other characters as well. For instance, the walking narrative cipher that is Chief Cluff (Eric Bana). He doesn’t get that many scenes, and after hearing his atrocious Suth-urn Ack-scent you’ll be glad at the lack of screen time, but every line he has just highlights some weird aspect that doesn’t fit about the film itself. Whether it’s bringing to attention how out-of-place his own accent is, the idiocy of how far Bernie is willing to follow regulations to the letter or just as a strawman misogynist that weirdly also brings up my own sentiment about how useless Miriam is, I almost want to believe that this is all intentional. Then again, there isn’t really much point to it if it really was intentional, save for refusing its own right to exist. As a result of this, the conversation between Cluff and Miriam is like a feedback loop of “Why do we exist!”, threatening to tear the fabric of the film’s reality apart with its mere existence. This is bolstered by a weird scene where one of Bernie’s shipmates ends up flung into the air by a wave, landing in such a way that should have broken him in more ways than one, and yet all that happens is that he loses his hat. With how disparate some of the film’s elements feel from themselves, I’m still not sure if that was funny in the way it was intended.

Of course, this is all probably making out the film to be a lot more exciting than it ultimately is. I sure hope you like grey and slightly lighter grey, because that’s the most of what you’re gonna get for colour palettes for the majority of the out-at-sea footage. I shouldn’t even need to bring this up but apparently I do if this is to believed: A single tone for the footage makes things real difficult to keep up with for any real length of time. Yeah, we get the occasional light filter to change things up and there’s the on-shore scenery of course, but for the rest of it we’re watching a film that could rightfully call itself 50 Shades Of Grey. If that joke sounded stupid to you as well, then know it that it at least hurts less than the aneurysm I had trying to suppress it. This ends up making the ‘action’ scenes pretty boring as a result. While not helped by its proximity to the also-troubled In The Heart Of The Sea, the boat scenes still aren’t all that impressive. Not just because of the aforementioned bland visuals, but also because of how unengaging the performances are. They’re pretty stock for an ocean-set action movie, complete with not one but two instances of showing orders being repeated all the way through the ship. And then there’s Casey Affleck as the engineer, who is so flat you’d think he was still walking through the desert in a Gus Van Sant production.

And speaking of all things operating under tremendous pretences, usually involving skill, the closest this film gets to having any kind of spice is its approach to the core theme of one’s own compassion for another and the drive to save that person’s life above their own. The film has an opportunity to delve into a base level bit of metaphysics, given how its vague religious undertones and how it mentions the bar more than Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Crossing The Bar. Unfortunately, it dodges any look into the reasoning of selfless sacrifice and instead just acknowledges that it’s the right thing to do. I’d normally let loose with all the No Duh!s I have saved up, except the film does it for me by making the main person who thinks that Bernie et al. should be doing it initially (namely, Miriam) into easily the most illogical character in the film. Yeah, not only is she is completely pointless in her very existence within the story, she is also shown as being stupid for stupid reasons. Some of it is warranted, like her worry about Bernie being out at sea, but the character seems to be straight-up ignorant of the fact that such a danger was likely and entirely to be expected when you marry a Coast Guard. Even if she was being useful, or just not here at all, this film still just wants to show that sacrifice… exists. Well, whoopty-friggin’-doo Disney, but knowing your current track record concerning tougher subjects in your films, this ain’t good enough.

All in all, this is the kind of Disneyfied dramatic slop that, after Saving Mr. Banks and their fantastic run of films from last year, I thought they wouldn’t return to for a little while longer. The actors are woefully miscast, most notably Chris Pine as the awkward by-the-book worker, the writing skirts emotional investment for misguided exposition and the action, while nice looking in places, is held back by the incessantly grey footage taken. It can feel like staring an unnaturally rippling piece of drywall before too long.

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