Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Finest Hours

I haven't been to the "MX4D" screen at the Showcase Cinema in Revere yet, and they don't even have The Finest Hours playinig on it this week. Pretty clearly a waste, because as much as it's a decent movie and machines which jerk the audience around are probably an even greater affront to the director's vision and the idea of cinema as an art form than a hasty 3D post-conversion job, but sitting in theater #2 of the Somerville Theatre, the screen not quite filling my field of vision, I couldn't help but think that would be a lot of fun.

One thing that I did like about it was that the ship itself seemed right. I love walking around on old ships when I travel, loving the cramped spaces and taking a bunch of pictures that probably don't do much for anybody I show them to. Because of my hobbies, I do notice that shooting a movie on them would be night-impossible - there is just no room, so it's impressive how well this movie makes it feel right while still giving everybody room to move.

The Finest Hours

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Movies like The Finest Hours win people Oscars. Not folks like Chris Pine and Carry Affleck, but the guys listed as doing research and development for the visual effects companies at the other end of the closing credits, who spend months researching the motion of large bodies of water and figuring out how to replicate it on-screen while other engineers build state of the art machinery to both safely twist a set in any conceivable direction and precisely record this movement (while being buffeted by wind and rain machines) so that a third set of people can digitally stitch it together. These accomplishments alone aren't enough to rate a ticket purchase today, but they're a big part of why a movie like this can be dismissed as enjoyable but not extraordinary, and they'll be making movies better well after we move on to the next thing at the multiplex.

All of this technology is in service of a story about people pulling off some impressive feats of their own when a storm and the captain's recklessness tears the tanker Pendleton in half off the coast of Massachusetts in 1952. With the ship's control and communication systems down, engineer Ray Sybert (Affleck) hatches a desperate plan to riff up a manual rudder and run what's left of the ship aground, hoping for rescue before the rising water levels flood the engines and render the pumps inoperable. That rescue will have to come from Bernie Webber (Pine), helming a boat small enough that just getting out of the harbor through the waves the storm is kicking up alive is unlikely.

There are, of course, plenty of other things going on around this - it's about a year since Bernie was unable to rescue the crew of another boat in a similar storm; things are getting serious with Miriam (Holliday Grainger), who is modern and assertive in most ways but skittish about the water; some in the Pendleton crew want to take their chances in the lifeboats; and many of them aren't too fond of Sybert - as there must be to create a little bit of space between the dangerous bits and give the audience reason to remember these guys' names. It's basic stuff that shows up in most movies of this type but the screenwriters seem to do better than most in not piling on with events that oversell the story and director Craig Gillespie doesn't emphasize personal drama in a way that implies that this is what's really challenging very often.

Full review on EFC.

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