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The imperfect storm

True-life Coast Guard tale takes 'The Finest Hours'

The latest true-life adventure from Disney isn't an animal documentary or a sports drama, but rather a tale of Coast Guard exploits. Shorn of the sea-salty language that probably attended the actual events, the 1950s-set disaster-rescue story "The Finest Hours" fits the Disney metier just fine, but its dim wall-of-grey visuals and tedious narrative make much of the two hours a challenge to the attention span for viewers of any age.

While necessarily simplifying -- and, at times, unnecessarily Hollywood-izing -- Michael J. Tougias' and Casey Sherman's nonfiction book "The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue", the film adheres to the basic facts: in 1952, with a nor'easter battering the seas off Cape Cod, two oil tankers break in two, dividing the Coast Guard's resources in mounting rescue efforts. And so it is that Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), the coxswain of motor lifeboat CG-36500, leads a crew of three (played by Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, and John Magaro) to find the SS Pendleton and bring home alive its 33 mates.

In an effort at gender inclusion (and shore-bound tension), "The Finest Hours" begins by establishing the courtship of Webber and his eventual fiancee Miriam (Holliday Grainger), who frets and struts her finest hours in the Coast Guard station, berating the commanding officer (Eric Bana), and along the coast, waiting for Bernie's boat to come in.

Most of the picture toggles between the Coast Guard effort and the struggles of the crew aboard the shockingly shorn stern section of the Pendleton -- most notably chief engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), who assumes leadership and proffers a plan to hold out in hopes of rescue; his tough-as-nails ally "Pops" (Graham McTavish), and a Doubting Thomas named Brown (Michael Raymond James).

The ragtag crews facing gale-force winds in the waters off Massachusetts inevitably brings to mind "The Perfect Storm," but "The Finest Hours," while probably a tad more authentic, lacks that film's vitality. Director Craig Gillespie whips up some eye-catching camera moves; the visual effects generally convince, and one can easily understand why this story swiftly became Coast Guard legend.

But there's too little drama to compensate for our knowledge that a Disney-branded film about a rescue effort will end with triumphant uplift. The rescue itself, once it finally arrives, gives the film a second wind, but too much screen time follows that true climax.

Although the film's long midsection sags, "The Finest Hours" in the end does a respectable job of telling, as tribute, its story of real-life American heroism.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril. One hour, 57 minutes.

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