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The story of The Finest Hours, based on a true one the screen tells us, takes place in 1951, which is probably apropos since whatever else the movie is, it’s certainly good old fashion entertainment.
It’s a movie in which men have to do what men have to do and their strong independent minded women also serve by sitting and waiting. It’s a movie that if it were done in odorama or smellovision, testosterone would be the fragrance of choice. It’s a movie so Howard Hawksian, you can’t help but wonder what that great director might have achieved with state of the art CGI.
But perhaps most important than all of that is that The Finest Hours is rollicking, edge of your seat fun. Yes, it’s formulaic and predictable (you can see the tropes coming a mile, or knot, off), but here it’s so well done, with such sincerity and heart, that the familiarity just makes it more enjoyable. And if that’s not enough, it has enough chills, thrills and nail biting suspense for ten movies.
The basic premise revolves around what is considered the most daring and dangerous rescue mission in Cast Guard history. During a massive storm, a tanker is split in two. The half with the captain goes down, but the other half, which has more ballast, is still afloat…for now. While the crew on the tanker try to figure out what to do (they settle on a plan to find a shoal and run the ship aground), on shore a Coast Guard cutter is assigned to look for the tanker—what many see as a suicide mission.
Chris Pines acquits himself well as the “aw shucks, I know I’m the best looking guy around, but I still have no confidence in my looks or anything I do” Bernie Webber, who heads the rescue mission. It’s a performance where you see all the ticks employed, but he’s very effective and it’s possibly his best performance yet (well, okay, the Prince in Into the Woods is perhaps better).
Casey Affleck, with his patented Dan Duryea scratchy falsetto, is the one left in charge of the tanker crew. He isn’t given as much screen time as Pines, but he holds his own beside the battering waves.
However, Holiday Grainger is probably the standout here. As Miriam, Bernie’s take charge girlfriend, she has wonderful kewpie doll looks and voice, and steals the movie as she symbolically goes from wearing an expensive fur type coat to what Nixon referred to as a respectable Republican cloth one.
With Ben Cross as Richard Livesey, Webber’s second in command and Eric Bana as Webber’s superior officer.
The exciting direction is by Craig Gillespie, who also gave us the very different Lars and the Real Girl, and the solid and tense screenplay is by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, who also wrote another man’s man of a film, The Fighter. The breathtaking music is by Carter Burwell, who is up for an Oscar for Carol.
Mojave, written and directed by William Monahan (who, among other things, worked on the screenplay for The Departed), is, like The Finest Hours, a manly man’s movie, but smaller in scope and made for a much lower budget (I hope), though with more than a touch of existentialism thrown in for good measure.
It also has a pretty neat premise. Thomas, a burnt out actor too young to be burnt out, drives to the middle of nowhere in the dessert for no real reason except he has to get away. There he runs into a stranger, Jack, who has a rifle. Thomas, his instinct on hyper-drive, beats up Jack and steals his rifle, fearing that Jack is planning the same fate for him. Thomas leaves, but Jack follows him. When Thomas holds up in a cave to catch some shuteye, he hears a noise and shoots a shadowy figure. But it’s not Jack he kills, but a police officer. Thomas returns to L.A., leaving Jack to take the blame. What he doesn’t know is that Jack is a serial killer. And not happy with how things went down, Jack tracks Thomas back to his home turf for a bit of cat and mouse.
It’s unfortunate that Mojave doesn’t work since it has a strong plot with some good ideas. The main problem is with Jack. The movies works the more visual it is, but Jack has an unfortunate habit of opening his mouth and speaking, and he does so to anyone and anything, and if no one is available, he talks to himself. But what he has to say, his musings on the meaning of life, isn’t particularly interesting, insightful or original. And Oscar Isaac who plays Jack (with a Cheshire grin) can’t seem to sell the character.
There’s only two good scenes between the two characters. One is when Jack confronts Thomas at a bar/restaurant, and they both tell the other what’s going to happen if one of them goes to the authorities (Thomas wins this round). The second is a crackerjack ending back in the desert when Thomas seeks out Jack for a final confrontation (I won’t reveal who comes out on top here).
But other than that, Mojave doesn’t live up to its promise.
With Garrett Hudland as Thomas (he’s much more successful than Isaac; he’s the sort of character you end up hating yourself for feeling sorry for them); Mark Wahlberg as a producer; and Walter Goggins, who always seems strung out, as Thomas’ agent.