Capsule Review: Finestkind (2023)

Finestkind marks Brian Helgeland’s return to the director’s chair since Legend in 2015. He also wrote the screenplay and interestingly, he reportedly did his first draft in 1995 and even had then-22-year-old Heath Ledger attached to play Charlie — the role that was eventually given to Toby Wallace. But after reading the script, Ledger was more interested in playing Charle’s older half-brother Tom. He was willing to wait until he grew old enough to star in the role and Helgeland agreed. The duo went on to collaborate in A Knight’s Tale (2001) and The Order (2003) but Ledger unfortunately died in 2008 at the age of 28 after he completed The Dark Knight.

In a perfect world, it would be one of those interesting what-if scenarios if Ledger was still alive to play Tom in Finestkind. Instead, we have the always-reliable Ben Foster playing the kind of character that he’s good at — stoic and full of layered intensity. Tom is the captain of a trawler who runs a crew including Costa (Ismael Cruz Cordova), Skeemo (Aaron Stanford) and Nunes (Scotty Tovar). Then along came his younger half-brother, Charlie (Wallace) who decides to spend his summer vacation learning how to become a fisherman before he’s off to a law school in Boston.

The first half of the movie sees Helgeland spending time developing the brotherhood angle between Tom and Charlie while exploring the tight-knit fishing crew, leaving enough room for Foster and Wallace and the supporting actors to shine in their respective roles. The writer-director, formerly a fisherman in his younger days before he joined the film industry, made good use of his real-life experience to give us the authentic feel and look of how a fishing crew operates on the sea — everything from using the dredges to shucking scallops manually.

It also helps that Helgeland shoots his movie on location in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which is famous for its commercial fishing port in the United States. Credits also go to Crille Forsberg for his textured cinematography that evokes a sense of time and place in this movie.

Charlie turns out to be a quick learner and he enjoys working with Tom and the rest of the crew. Trouble arises when the siblings take the risk of dredging for scallops illegally in Canadian waters on Tom’s father’s (Tommy Lee Jones, who excels in his perfectly gruff supporting turn as Eldridge) boat nicknamed Finestkind. They get caught for their action, resulting in the impoundment of the boat and slapped with a hefty US$100,000 fine.

None of them has that kind of money and this is where Helgeland veers from the hard-hitting drama to an increasingly predictable thriller territory revolving around smuggling heroin. The second half, however, does have a few worthwhile moments including the introduction of Clayne Crawford of TV’s Lethal Weapon as the volatile Boston Irish gangster and a familiar burst of violence (the latter is especially true since Taylor Sheridan happens to be one of the producers here).

The movie also features Jenna Ortega, who seems to be miscast as a drug dealer Mabel while the subplot depicting her romantic relationship with Charlie is among the least effective parts of the movie.

Several shortcomings and a protracted 126-minute runtime aside, Finestkind remains a mostly well-acted drama with enough engaging moments to keep this movie, well, sinking on the bottom of the ocean.

Finestkind is currently streaming on Paramount+.