The Movie Waffler New Release Review - FINESTKIND | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - FINESTKIND

Finestkind review
Two estranged brothers strike a deal with a dangerous crime syndicate.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brian Helgeland

Starring: Ben Foster, Toby Wallace, Jenna Ortega, Tommy Lee Jones, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Lolita Davidovich, Tim Daly, Clayne Crawford

Finestkind poster

I was first exposed to the New England expression "finest kind" through the character of Hawkeye on long-running sitcom MASH. Hawkeye used it quite literally to express his respect for something or someone. In writer/director Brian Helgeland's Finestkind, we're told the expression can have different meanings depending on when and to whom it's used. This vagueness reflects the film that bears its name, which is a mish mash of a sea-faring adventure, a family drama, a romance and a crime thriller. Some of the elements work better than others, but they never coalesce into any truly satisfying.

Toby Wallace, the young Australian actor who caught our attention with his charismatic turn in Babyteeth, begins his campaign to become Hollywood's next big import from Down Under in convincing fashion as college graduate Charlie. The film opens with Charlie reuniting with his significantly older brother Tom (Ben Foster), the captain of a rough and tumble crew of fishermen. Charlie wants to join the crew for the summer and get to know Tom before he heads to law school in the autumn. Tom gives his younger sibling the standard warning that the sea is no place for a book learnin' kid with soft hands, but he agrees to let the boy tag along.

Finestkind review

This results in the film's most engaging scenes as we watch Charlie build up trust with the salty sea-dogs of his brother's crew. Anyone who worked a manual labour summer job as a teen will be familiar with the playful piss-taking of the wet behind the ears new kid. The relationship forged between Charlie and the men his brother puts his trust in every day is genuinely endearing. There's always something interesting about a movie that throws us into a distinct world, and while I can't vouch for the veracity of Finestkind's depiction of trawling off the New England coast, Helgeland and his cast certainly make it look authentic.

While Tom and Charlie share the same mother (Lolita Davidovitch), they have very different dads. Tom is the product of Ray (Tommy Lee Jones), a Texan fisherman who could probably salt his chips by scratching his beard. The two don't speak much but when Tom's trawler sinks his old man offers him aid in the form of taking his own boat, the "Finestkind", out on an oyster shucking expedition. Conversely, Charlie's father (Tim Daly) is a white collar type who grows concerned that his son is taking too much of a liking to the seafaring life.

Finestkind review

There's a better version of Finestkind that leans into the idea of sons trying to live up to their fathers' expectations while figuring out if working class roots can really be erased by living in a big house. That movie is called Creed, and it's hard not to think of the relationship between the aged Rocky Balboa and the young Adonis Creed as we watch Tom take Charlie under his wing. But while it may not have the depth of that modern classic, it's still quite heart-warming, thanks to the endearing performances of Foster and Wallace.

Helgeland isn't content with centering his film on exploring such masculine dynamics however. He adds an unconvincing romance between Charlie and Mabel (Jenna Ortega), a young drug-dealing Latina who constantly talks about how she doesn't want to be a cliché while being burdened with the most clichéd persona imaginable. When Charlie sees her troubled home life Mabel assures him "This is where I'm from, not where I'm going," and the audience collectively groans. Later a character spouts the Hallmark card nugget of "You live and you die, it's what you do in between that counts."

Finestkind review

In the movie's final act it takes an even more unconvincing turn into thriller territory as circumstances force Charlie and Tom to go to work for a Boston crime syndicate. Clayne Crawford, who was so good as the embodiment of male fragility in The Killing of Two Lovers and The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, is given the less rewarding role here of a stereotypical Irish-American mobster, the sort who turns every "o" into an "aaahhh." He's very watchable but he's in the wrong movie, and the resulting thriller subplot is lazy and hackneyed.

If you want to see an affable drama about brotherly bonding on the high seas, you're covered by about half of Finestkind's runtime. But be prepared to slog through a crime thriller that's no more engaging than any of the many straight to VOD efforts that can be found lurking in the depths of a streaming service.

Finestkind is on Paramount+ from December 15th.

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