Strong performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Foster and Clayne Crawford elevate this oceanic crime thriller.
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I’ve always been a fan of writer/producer/director Brian Helgeland to a large degree. He won an Oscar for co-adapting James Ellroy’s “L.A. Confidential” (one of the best crime films of the 1990s) alongside director Curtis Hanson. I honestly preferred Mel Gibson and Paramount’s version of “Payback” to Helgeland’s, but both iterations have their merits. His “A Knight’s Tale” is a thoroughly anachronistic and entertaining medieval tale, which I’ll often watch whenever it’s on cable regardless of when I enter the picture. Additionally, Helgeland had a hand in adapting Dennis Lehane’s and A.J. Quinnell’s novels “Mystic River” and “Man on Fire” into Clint Eastwood and Tony Scott’s famed films of the same names. Subsequently, Helgeland helmed and penned biopics of the sports (“42”) and crime (“Legend”) variety.
Helgeland’s latest is “Finestkind” (now streaming on Paramount+) and it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this fall to middling reviews. I liked it a good deal better than these curmudgeonly critics. Helgeland drew from his own experiences working as a fisherman in Massachusetts for the film and in doing so has made what could be the ultimate “Dad Movie.” It’s earnest, feels like a throwback to flicks made in the 1980s (complete with power ballad montages), is memeable AF (Tommy Lee Jones utters the line, “I’m yer fuckin’ Daddy,” and spends an entire minute of the movie making whale noises) and likely won’t appeal to anyone under the age of 40, but it worked for me.
Ben Foster stars as Tom Eldridge, the captain of a fishing vessel crewed by Costa (Ismael Cruz Cordova), Skeemo (Aaron Stanford) and Nunes (Scotty Tovar). Tom’s much younger and much wealthier half-brother Charlie (Toby Wallace) wants to spend the summer between graduation and law school working for his older sibling. Tom reluctantly agrees.
On Charlie’s first voyage out to sea Tom’s given a bum boat by the fishing company and the vessel goes down after an engine fire. Stepping in to aid Tom is his estranged father Ray (Jones), who offers to let him use his boat – the titular Finestkind – on their next outing.
Tom, looking to stick it to his old man by bringing in the biggest haul the Finestkind has ever seen, fishes in Canadian waters (a big no-no) and winds up getting Ray’s boat impounded, catches forfeited and a $100,000 fine incurred.
In order to get the money Charlie brokers a deal between his burgeoning girlfriend Mabel (recent “Scream” refugee Jenna Ortega) and local drug kingpin Pete Weeks (Clayne Crawford) for the Finestkind’s crew to retrieve and deliver a shipment of heroin. Things, as they often do, go sideways and the boys find themselves even deeper in the drink.
“Finestkind” is uniformly well-acted, but there are three performances that really stand out. Jones does a lot with a little and has a scene late in the picture that’s one of the year’s best – bumping this three and a half star movie up to a four. Foster’s one of my favorite working character actors and the role of Tom has him working in one of his strongest modes – emotionally repressed and ever on the verge of exploding. Crawford only has a few scenes, but he makes an absolute meal out of them oscillating between funny and threatening with great ease.
“Finestkind” is probably best enjoyed on a couch beside your Dad while downing a coupla Buds (ostensibly the official beverage of the Finestkind’s crew). It won’t quite be “Dad Movie” nirvana, but it’ll be awfully damned close.