Brian Helgeland’s Finestkind is a predictable but entertaining crime drama, with a standout performance by Tommy Lee Jones.
PLOT: A law school-bound University grad (Toby Wallace) decides to spend his summer working with his fisherman half-brother (Ben Foster) in the hopes of finding adventure. But, he soon realizes that despite the rewarding work, you can only push things so far, as debts pile up and the brothers flirt with organized crime.
REVIEW: You can understand where Brian Helgeland’s Finestkind is going from the start. As soon as fresh-faced Charlie (Toby Wallace) convinces his taciturn older half-brother, Tom (Ben Foster), to let him join his crew of hard-living fishermen, you know it’s not going to end with a pat on the back for a job well done. This is especially true once he lays eyes on a heartbreaking local girl, Mabel (Jenna Ortega), who he spies doing a drug deal with a crew member. Yet, even though nothing terribly surprising happens over the two-hour running time, it can’t be denied that Finestkind is entertaining and somewhat refreshing in its non-cynical take on classic themes like brotherhood and the love between a father and his son. Some folks at the TIFF press screening giggled when Helgeland laid on the cliches a little thick, but there was also a hearty round of applause when the credits rolled for this Paramount Plus-bound drama.
While the young Toby Wallace (who also stars in TIFF’s The Royal Hotel) is likable as the naive Charlie and Ben Foster are committed, as always, as the rule-breaking older brother, the ace up the movie’s sleeve is Tommy Lee Jones. Having been out of the limelight for the last few years, it’s a bit shocking to see the now visibly aged Jones show up as Foster’s father, a local fishing legend in the New Bedford community, party because he’s a Texan but mostly because he doesn’t take any shit. While physically, Jones seems more fragile than he did in his last few roles before the pandemic, he still has the presence to burn. He delivers a touching performance as a rugged old fisherman who, at the end of his life, is desperate to reconnect with the son he’s become estranged from. He gives the film a palpable sense of regret and melancholy. Once the boys get involved with violent heroin pushers, run by Clayne Crawford’s more business-oriented than usual baddie, we know he’s the one who’s going to have to step up and make things right. It’s a part Jones has played before, but he does so to perfection.
Yet, it’s not really Jones’s movie, with Helgeland keeping the focus on the brothers, who grow closer as the film goes on once Charlie becomes less of a tourist. You start to buy that he would get seduced by the lifestyle, with Tom’s bond with his loyal crew the kind of macho brotherhood we all seek at some time or another. Rings of Power star Ismael Cruz Cordova is solid as Foster’s right-hand man, who has to juggle his family life with the demands of the sea. Jenna Ortega also has a meaty role as the local girl who may initially seem like trouble but is her own person with her own code of honor (just like the guys), and we start to invest in her relationship with Charlie. She and Wallace have some steamy chemistry, with her showing a lot of promise and seeming to be on the verge of becoming the next Zendaya. Even the more minor roles, such as Charlie’s white-collar dad (Tim Daly) and mom (Lolita Davidovich), have nicely shaded, non-stereotypical turns as the film continues.
Helgeland’s Finestkind isn’t aiming to be the next Goodfellas or anything like that, but it’s a slick, well-made drama with a little edge and a lot of heart. It feels like the kind of movie they used to make back in the ’80s/90s/2000s, and if you miss those days, like I do, you’ll find this well worth your time. Coming from 101 Studios, the folks behind all of Taylor Sheridan’s stuff (he’s listed as an EP), it should find a good home on Paramount Plus. I hope they start churning out more old-school dramas like this one.