The Last of the Finest

Watching a first-rate character actor cut loose in a lead role is one of the more exhilarating pleasures of B movies. The Last of the Finest, a standard-issue vigilante flick written and directed with above-standard intelligence and sympathy, is even better: It gives you four first-rate character actors.

Most famous is Brian Dennehy, who stars as the leader of a police strike force that gets too close to a government-contra cocaine connection. Always a commanding presence (his graceful bulk tends to squeeze other actors to the far corners of a shot), Dennehy plays this tough-minded, tenderhearted cop with a palpable sense of relief. He’s like a big, happy cat stretching out.

Backing him up are three other familiar faces who also seem to enjoy the change of pace. Bill Paxton usually is cast as an obnoxious loudmouth (Near Dark), Jeff Fahey as a weirdo stud (True Blood), and Joe Pantoliano as a sleazy whiner (Midnight Runs bail-bondsman), but here they’re all playing honorable, headstrong guys.

That doesn’t stop the filmmakers from dragging out the hardware for the big bam-boom ending, of course: This is first and foremost a shoot-’em-up. But when the characters sit around a garage and debate the morality of their tactics, you know something unusual is happening. And when a bag of drug money lands in their laps, they actually vote on whether to keep it. With their wives. Although short-lived in theaters, Finest is an almost perfect overnight rental: It delivers on its action expectations while refreshingly questioning the genre’s most basic assumptions. B+

The Last of the Finest
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