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16 Dec 2023


NextImg:Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Finestkind’ On Paramount+, A Languidly-Paced Film About Fishing, Brothers, Fathers And Sons

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Finestkind

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In the new film Finestkind, there are plenty of scenes where commercial fishing boats and their crews do what they do, and those scenes feel authentic. That’s because the movie’s writer and director, Brian Helgeland, worked on fishing boats when he was growing up in New Bedford Massachusetts. But when the fishing scenes are the best part of a film, that’s a problem.

The Gist: In New Bedford, MA, fishing is a way of life; it’s the largest fishing port in the Northeast. Tom Aldridge (Ben Foster) has been a commercial fisherman his entire life. When his half-brother Charlie (Toby Wallace), who just graduated college with an English degree, surprises him at the harbor one day and asks if he can use a deckhand on his crew, Tom at first says no.

Charlie convinces him that he really wants to learn the trade during the summer, instead of clerking for his attorney dad Gary Sykes (Tim Daly). Tom gives him the job, and Charlie goes out with the crew — Nunes (Scotty Tovar), Skeemo (Aaron Stanford) and Costa (Ismael Cruz Cordova). The guys goof on Charlie and sit him down to give him a buzz cut, but it seems that he fits in well.

A few days into the run, on some rough seas, the engine of the trawler they’re on catches fire and the ship sinks. Tom, Charlie and the crew spend a day on a rescue dinghy, which is where Charlie learns the meaning — or multiple meanings — of the word they all keep using: “Finestkind.” “It’s the Swiss Army knife of words,” says Tom.

After they’re rescued, the crew immediately goes to their favorite watering hole to blow off steam. It’s there that Charlie sees Mabel (Jenna Ortega), whom he likely knew when they were younger, but is all grown up now, and he’s immediately attracted to her. Charlie and Tom’s mother, Donna (Lolita Davidovich), understands the life, but Gary doesn’t; when he storms into the bar to see how Charlie is, his son tells him he’s going back out again.

Tom is angry that the fishing conglomerate that owned the boat didn’t maintain it the way they should have, and he threatens the owner of the company; Charlie has to talk him down from doing something he’ll regret.

Not long after, Tom is approached by his father, Ray (Tommy Lee Jones) to take his boat, the Finestkind out on a scalloping run. Tom hasn’t worked, much less talked, to Ray in years, but a simple “Please” from the gruff Texan seems to do the trick.

When Tom, Charlie and the crew do go out, they move towards Canadian waters as they trawl for scallops. Tom decides to cross into those waters illegally, because he knows a spot where there’s a massive haul that they can get. “Getting caught is not an option,” he tells a worried Charlie more than once. But they do end up getting caught, and the Finestkind is impounded with a hefty fine. When Tom and Charlie find out that Ray’s health is in decline, they decide that they need to act quickly to get the boat back to Ray, which brings the crew, as well as Mabel, into the orbit of a heroin dealer named Pete Weeks (Clayne Crawford).

Finestkind
Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Paramount+

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: A little bit of Big Fish, a little bit of Mystic River, a little bit of The Perfect Storm, and a little bit of Good Will Hunting.

Performance Worth Watching: Tommy Lee Jones is riveting whenever he’s onscreen as Ray. All the years of trolling the North Atlantic to make a living are seen on his face, and in a scene with Davidovich, you can just sense that there’s a whole history there that’s begging to be explored. If writer and director Brian Helgeland (who, it should be noted, won an Oscar for writing the L.A. Confidential screenplay) had built the entire film around Ray, it might have been much more interesting.

Memorable Dialogue: Ray gives Tom and Charlie some advice that’s pretty obvious but seems wise coming from him: “You live, you die. It’s the in-between that counts.”

Sex and Skin: Charlie and Mabel start seeing each other, and there are a couple of mild, mostly-clothed sex scenes between the two of them.

Our Take: Helgeland wrote Finestkind based on his own experiences growing up in New Bedford and working on a commercial fishing boat, and the extended scenes where Tom, Charlie and the crew do the actual fishing are actually some of the more compelling scenes in the film. It’s a remarkable operation, seeing thousands of scallops being pulled up from the sea bottom, then these skeleton crews shuck and bag them. It’s definitely hard, physically-demanding work, but what Helgeland tries to show is that guys like Tom Aldridge wouldn’t live their lives any other way, and there’s a reason why Charlie wants to commit to that life, as hard as it can be.

Most of the first 75 minutes of the film are about that, paced in a languid way that made us wonder if there was an actual plot. Things moved pretty slowly, and there was some thuddingly dumb dialogue during this time, but we liked the idea that Tom and Charlie were bonding after being on their own paths for years, and the budding relationship between Charlie and Mabel was sweet if ultimately pointless in the larger scheme of the movie.

Speaking of Mabel, Ortega was criminally underutilized, playing a role that is supposed to be a “bad girl” but really isn’t. We were dying to see more backstory about her life, other than the fact that her mother was a drug dealer, and how she was connected to Charlie during their childhoods.

At about that 75 minute mark, actual plot kicks in, and the movie goes in a completely different direction as the Finestkind is impounded, Tom and Charlie find out about Ray’s health and the fateful decision is made that brings Weeks into their lives. It certainly feels like a different movie at this point, one we should have seen earlier in the film; if at least 20 minutes out of the 126-minute running time was cut, the transition might not have been as jarring.

One more thing: At the end of the movie, something happens which pretty much negates the events that came before it, something that was surprising given how thought-through other aspects of the film were, like how an veteran New England fisherman like Ray could have Jones’ Texas accent.

Our Call: SKIP IT. Finestkind wants to be a commentary about families and the bonds that are forged in an occupation like commercial fishery. But the film meanders for too long before any kind of plot kicks in, then shifts gears so severely that we almost got whiplash trying to keep up.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.