FINESTKIND | USA | 2023 | 126m | English
Starring: Ben Foster, Toby Wallace, Tommy Lee Jones, Jenna Ortega
Directed By: Brian Helgeland
Two brothers from opposite sides of the tracks are reunited as adults. Desperate circumstances force them into a deal with an organized crime syndicate in Boston, and a young women gets caught in the middle.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
RATING 2 out of 5
Finestkind is ripe with potential, whether it be it’s talented lead cast or the strong career of writer-director Brian Hegleland, but a unfocused screenplay that bites off far more than it can manage renders this character based crime drama a missed opportunity
Brian Hegleland has had an expansive career as both a director and writer, having written the screenplay for such notable films as Mystic River and L.A. Confidential, and directing hits films like A Knight’s Tale and 42. With such a talented writer and director at the helm of this character based crime drama, Finestkind had such potential. Especially with a cast led by such incredible Hollywood talent as Ben Foster, Tommy Lee Jones and Jenna Ortega. And while it is clear this is a project that Hegleland is passionate about, given the decades long journey it took for him to bring this story to the big screen, the end result is a frustrating narrative experience that has ambitious vision but squanders the execution of that vision.
Charlie returns home to the smalltown New England fishing town he grew up in. Much to his parents' disappointment, Charlie ignores his legal career for the summer and joins his brother Tom and his fisherman crew on the open seas. But as the fisherman crew’s debts begin to build up, the brothers hatch a deal with a Boston crime syndicate that has dangerous consequences for the entire crew, and their loved ones.
The crux of the problem with Finestkind is the story of the film. It’s a small town based crime drama with lots of moving parts. Each of the characters has their own personal drama, whether it be family problems, wanting to break free of the constraints of the small New England fishing town they live in, or medical issues. The film’s first half does a decent job of juggling all of these plot elements, moving at a brisk pace to keep generating conflicts to propel the individual character arcs. It’s not the most engaging manner of storytelling, it’s fairly generic and the scenes end too quickly for any of the various story points to fully develop, but it works. Though, once the main crime aspect of the story is introduced in the film’s second half, the screenplay falls apart. With too many narrative threads at play, the film is forced to forget many of them, rushing to their conclusion or never revisiting them. The crime element of the story is fairly bland, it feels rushed and never fully developed, ending with a quick and bloody mess. And any sort of character development is quickly lost, forcing the film’s character arcs to follow the plot rather than their individual struggles and development that had begun earlier in the film. While Hegleland has developed the characters on individuals he knows from the small town he grew up in, and has a clear affection for them, he simply bites off more than he can chew in this film from a narrative point of view.
With the narrative issues, it’s no surprise that the performances in the film suffer. Foster, in the lead role that Heath Ledger originally wanted to play before his passing, does a good enough job as Tom, bringing a sense of grit and compassion to this young man who is a product of his upbringing. The role plays into Foster’s talents, but the material fails Foster and prevents it from being a memorable performance by any means. The same can be said for Toby Wallace in the role of Charlie, Tom’s younger brother. Wallace has moments where his skill as an actor breaks through the problematic screenplay, but is largely held back by a screenplay that cannot commit to a focus. Jones, while being a formidable actor in all regards, is absolutely wasted and has only a few scenes that feature some serious overacting that finds the dramatic depth Hegleland wishes he had in this film, but sadly sticks out like a sore thumb. Luckily, the film has Ortega as Mabel, Charlie’s girlfriend, and it’s nothing less than another stellar performance from her. Ortega finds a heart to her character and infuses Mabel with a fiery spirit, creating a character that truly pops off the screen in an otherwise drab film.
It is clear from Brian Hegleland’s entire production that this is a passion project for him: the shooting of sequences on actual fishing ships on the water, training the cast on how to crew the large fishing ships, and shooting on location in Massachusetts. It creates the world that Hegleland wanted this story to flourish in, but sadly, the story does not reach Hegleland’s lofty goals. A scattered screenplay that fails to generate the dramatic depth and tension ultimately leaves Finestkind adrift in the storm, preventing this character based crime drama from being anything more than a forgettable experience despite a talented cast and a strong performance from Jenna Ortega.