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“The Finest Hours” offers up an early year theatrical surprise

the finest hours casey affleck
As I’ve mentioned more than once here, January is not known for being an especially strong month for movies. At the same time, recent years have offered up a few more intriguing things than usual, with this weekend being just the latest example with Disney’s release of The Finest Hours. This high seas adventure is probably something that would have gotten lost in the shuffle during awards season or the summer blockbuster season, but as an early year release, it does have some potential to break through and be an under the radar hit. It’s nothing to go too crazy over, but it’s enjoyable and better than expected, so those of you who have seen all of the Oscar contenders might find this an intriguing option to consider…

The film is a look at a true life Coast Guard rescue in 1952. When a pair of oil tankers are destroyed and stranded off of Cape Cod during a blizzard, it falls on Coast Guard team led by Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to save the day. While plenty of boats are headed to one tanker, the other, kept afloat by Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) is all alone, so Webber and a crew that includes Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) are sent out by superior officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) to attempt the impossible. No points for guessing how this one ends. The film is directed by Craig Gillespie, written by Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, as well as Paul Tamasy, and features the likes of Rachel Brosnahan, Holliday Grainger, Graham McTavish, and John Ortiz in some of the supporting roles.

the finest hours chris pine, ben foster

What makes this movie work (at least for me) is the combination of solid acting from the ensemble (notably Affleck), a strong sense of production design, and an admirable sense of earnestness. This is the type of thing that, aside from the top notch special effects, could be considered old fashioned, and it wears that label like a badge of honor in a way. The Finest Hours is a tribute to heroism, doing things the hard way, and nautical honor. Frankly, it’s the sort of thing that just doesn’t get made that often anymore. Is it perfect? Of course not. Is it enjoyable? Very much so.

Awards wise, it’s very early on in the year, so this is probably a long shot for The Finest Hours. Still, I think Disney could easily try to re-launch (no pun intended) this again during awards season. Campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Gillespie), Best Actor (for Pine), Best Supporting Actor (for Affleck), Best Supporting Actress (for Grainger), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Johnson, Silver, and Tamasy), Best Production Design, and Best Visual Effects wouldn’t be out of place at all. I think the realistic chance, in terms of Academy attention, is the Production Design and Visual Effects, but anything is possible. There’s no way to know what this year is going to be like.

Overall, The Finest Hours is an enjoyable and decidedly throwback kind of flick. Disney more or less has cornered the market on inspiring true life tales over the years, so this is just another example of that successful formula at play. It can be predictable at times, but in a comfort food sort of a way. I don’t know that The Finest Hours is going to be remembered later on this year, but especially here in January, it’s a surprisingly strong release. This month usually is a dog, so to get something this solid, well…it’s kind of a treat, actually. When it hits theaters this weekend, give it a shot…

Be sure to check out The Finest Hours when it opens in theaters this Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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