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Review: Toby Wallace Dives Into Deep Waters With Ben Foster in Brian Helgeland's 'Finestkind'

"You live and you die. It's the in-between part that's important."

Writer/director Brian Helgeland's work often speaks for itself. Winning an Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay to "L.A. Confidential," the New England native followed up his critical success by directing Heath Ledger in "A Knight's Tale," collaborating with Clint Eastwood on "Mystic River," and helping to solidify Chadwick Boseman's legacy with "42." Over the years, the filmmaker has made his mark on cinema by collecting large ensembles of actors and giving them space to perform to their highest achievements. His latest film, "Finestkind," ushers in a new generation of actors looking to learn from some industry veterans as they embark on a fishing expedition of criminal proportions.

"Finestkind" is written and directed by Helgeland, set in the familiar territory of many of his projects: Massachusetts. The film follows young Charlie (Toby Wallace), a stubbornly intelligent man looking to escape a standard college education by joining his half-brother Tom (Ben Foster) on the latter's commercial fishing boat. Completely defying his father's (Tim Daly) wishes, Charlie sets out on a new life, working a blue-collar job with travel opportunities and risky adventures. The brothers join a band of misfits upon the sea, eventually involving themselves in a local crime syndicate that sees the group entangled in dangerous waters. All the while, Charlie does his best to establish a relationship with a local know-it-all, Mabel (Jenna Ortega).

When the crew gets into a tricky situation due to debts piling up and illegal activities taking a stranglehold over their business dealings, Tom leans on his father (Tommy Lee Jones) to battle the evils from within. Tom's father is renowned for his place in the fishing industry and his old-school way of working with those who would dare cross his family. But not all is as it seems with this family, and Charlie tends to gravitate towards those within his chosen family rather than his biological bloodline.

The term "finestkind" is an expression of the fishing trade. It means something different every time you say it. One minute it could mean "fuck you," and the next, it could mean something awe-inspiring and beautiful. It's the best term to describe Helgeland's newest film, chock full of a large cast, enterprising storylines, but leaving much on the table by the end. One minute, you find yourself loving every inch of this movie as it dives into uncharted waters…the next, you think you are watching a tale you've seen a hundred times before. Nevertheless, Helgeland and team do a worthwhile job expressing the hazards that lie ahead while sticking to a formula that works decently well within a typical crime drama.

"Finestkind" boasts powerful performances from leads Toby Wallace and Ben Foster as the two make for a convincing case of the family bonds that tie together two souls looking for peace from within. The ensemble cast is not to be messed with, with the exception of Ortega, who seems a bit out of her element here. Persuasive in every sense of the word, the film benefits from irresistible performances from Jones, Clayne Crawford, and Ismael Crus Cordova. Helgeland's rocky script might have deterred similar types of actors in these roles, but the ensemble does well with the material they're given.

As pressure mounts for the fishermen looking for a big payday, the sea walls close in to reflect a claustrophobic atmosphere of familial tension. That's not an easy task to complete, but Helgeland lands that plane via family dynamics that would have the cast of "The Fighter" searching for the offramp. The world of commercial fishing is on full display in this well-paced thriller, meeting all the expectations of a young cast who never seem to shy away from getting some time to shine in the spotlight. It's a worthy attempt at depicting blue-collar ambitions compared to white-collar assumptions. Themes that have been explored before by other filmmakers, but Brian Helgeland makes them his own in this film.

See this film for the explosive performances of the large cast. Hopefully, leave with an understanding that the tides that bind us might not be the tides that are good for us.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟


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