There is a stagnant air of familiarity in the air Finest kindBrian Helgeland’s personally informed portrait of a fractured fishing family struggling to find their way back together in the troubled waters of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Although Helgeland’s meandering film is anchored by a number of strong performances, particularly Ben Foster and a fresh-faced Toby Wallace as estranged half-brothers trying to find common ground despite their different upbringings, it still feels like it’s somewhere else in time stuck. It’s actually not surprising to learn that the writer and director, who himself comes from a Norwegian fishing family that has worked in the US industry since the 1930s, initially developed a version of the script 25 years ago and was offered the role at the time from Wallace’s Charlie to Heath Ledger. In the years that followed, Helgeland completed three more versions of the script, but while the final result is set in the present, there is a palpable return to it, the atmosphere of the event is palpable.
Ship-shaped, water-flooded property.
Given the strong performances – including those from Tommy Lee Jones as Foster’s grizzly, salt-soaked father and Jenna Ortega as Wallace’s confident love interest – the film should still attract some curious viewers when it hits Paramount+ in November.
Set to start law school in the fall, Charlie (Wallace) is still searching for himself and decides to spend his summer vacation working aboard a fishing boat with his brother Tom (Foster) and his crew. Despite his inexperience, Charlie proves to be a quick learner and relishes the opportunity to reunite with his older sibling, with whom he shares the same mother (Lolita Davidovich), while – much to his dismay – adapting well to the new Bedford community inserts button-down lawyer father (Tim Daly).
He also becomes close to Mabel (Ortega), the spirited daughter of a drug-dealing mother who is trying to find her own way in life. Meanwhile, brooding Tom struggles to deal with his cantankerous biological father, Ray Eldredge (Jones).
Finestkind (the “Swiss Army Knife of Words” is derived from an old fishing expression that can mean anything from “great” to “go to hell” depending on the situation) agrees to take Ray’s ailing highliner, Finestkind, on a scallop On a fishing expedition, Tom defies orders and pushes the ship out into Canadian waters. This caught the attention of the Canadian Coast Guard, who seized the boat. Desperate to raise the money needed to get it back, Tom, Charlie and Mabel make deals with a violent Boston gang over a drug bust that goes horribly wrong.
Around the time “The Finestkind” crosses the border into Canadian territory, the film also goes tonally off track, shifting from a closely observed family drama to ” Mystical RiverIt is a crime thriller in the style of a crime novel, which also captures some genre clichés. You can tell that the setting for Helgeland comes from a personal perspective, as his own experiences as an English student learning the ropes as an apprentice commercial fisherman inform the immersive attention to detail that fills the New Bedford setting.
The kind of workplace commitment required for the performance is tailor-made for Foster, a character actor known for always being prepared and bringing his usual gravitas to the role of a loner who uses the sea as a reliable escape route about these complicated family dynamics. Wallace, an Australian actor who is currently enjoying some Fall Festival moments and also appears in Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotelgives his character a strong sense of conviction as he tries to plan his future.
And of course there’s the reliable Jones, who keeps things more grounded as a believable professional sailor with terminal cancer who sees his boat as his hospice. He somehow manages to make lines like “You live, you die, it’s the in-between that counts” palatable.
However, when a character repeats it for the third time, you wish Helgeland had heeded that advice better.