The Finest Hours is a true story based on the rescue of the 33 man crew SS Pendleton which found itself stranded in the Atlantic ocean after their ship split apart due the ferocious weather. Led by Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) a small crew look to battle the elements and complete an impossible mission.
For the type of film it is The Finest Hours hits all the right notes. There are waves as high as the oil tankers and dramatic and thrilling sequences as men battle the elements. Spectacle is often at the forefront of such pictures and as evident by the films Roland Emmerich and the 70s disaster flicks (The Towering Inferno for instance) spectacle and rich character development don't go hand in hand, normally they'd have to forgo the other to achieve at least one of either rich character development or spectacle.
With The Finest Hours the film very much favours spectacle, the characterisations of each character are simplistic at best (Eric Bana's Chief Warren gets a really raw deal) but the performances by the actors (Casey Affleck in particular) elevate their character above their modest characterisations and thus have the effect in making the film an engaging one in a sense that you find yourself rooting for the characters. This is despite the fact that the characters are dwarfed by the high seas in more ways than one. Credit goes to the actors for getting the most out of their characters
The sea faring stuff more than makes up for a lacklustre landlubber aspects of the story, such as Holliday Grainger's subplot, about the nail biting worry for the coast guards who ventured into the treacherous storm, which lacks the depth to make her plight an engaging one. However, the bravery on show by Bernie and his crew to rescue those standard on the SS Pendleton is quite inspiring.
There's some impressive shots (especially when the crew shout instructions through the ship) and director Craig Gillespie helms the action well, but the ham-fisted and basic characterisation does anchor the film from standing out from the many similar films, such as The Perfect Storm, about extreme weather. One of the things the film teaches you is that Friends' Ross Geller is right, you must respect the sea!