(2009)3Alaina O'ConnorIn Brooklyn's Finest, director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) paints a brutal picture of the volatile world of one of New York City's most dangerous precincts, where law meets crime and the line between right and wrong is blurred. The film follows the lives of three conflicted New York City police officers as they navigate the seedy underbelly of a rough area of Brooklyn plagued by drugs, prostitution, and corruption. Burned-out veteran Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere), days from his retirement, just wants to take his pension and move to a fishing cabin in Connecticut. Narcotics officer Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) finds that there's no line he won't cross to provide his family with a better life and save his long-suffering pregnant wife and kids from squaller. Clarence "Tango" Butler (Don Cheadle) has been undercover so long he fears he may never crawl out of the dark hole he's burrowed himself into. With pressure bearing down on them, each man faces daily tests of judgment, loyalty, and morality in one of the city's most dangerous professions.
Brooklyn's Finest is reminiscent of similar cop dramas such as Serpico, New Jack City, and even HBO's The Wire (though not as brilliant), and for a while the film starts off as a promising crime drama about three police officers driven to extremes in order to do their job. Fuqua brings the same kind of soulful intensity and gritty realism that characterized his previous inner-city tale Training Day, but this time abandons the simplicity for a more complex and claustrophobic narrative filled with tortured souls. Where Brooklyn's Finest falters is in the script, written by first-time screenwriter Michael C. Martin. As gritty cop dramas go, Martin does an OK job of hitting all the major plot points, but as the film moves inexorably toward its climax, where the three storylines finally intersect, it feels more or less out of necessity than inevitability that they converge and leaves the audience to wonder why they were all part of the same movie in the first place.
What saves the film from being just another mediocre cop movie are the performances from an all-star cast. Hawke is convincing as the cash-strapped, twitchy family man just desperate enough to steal drug money. With his grizzled demeanor and brooding mentality, Hawke brings just enough suspense to make the audience wonder will he or won't he. Cheadle is surprisingly convincing as conflicted undercover police officer Tango. He wants to get out of the world he's entrenched in and live the dream with a comfy desk job, but his loyalties have started to shift from his fellow police officers to the drug dealers he now sees as family. The most interesting relationship in the film is between Tango and Caz (played by Wesley Snipes), who formed a bond while in prison (Tango was undercover) and carried that brotherhood to the streets. Snipes turns in a solid performance as the formerly incarcerated drug kingpin who wants to score one last time and disappear from his old life, and it's delightful to see Cheadle and Snipes play off each other. The weakest storyline of the film, however, is that of alcoholic veteran Eddie, and though Gere consciously makes an effort to portray a man whose lack of enthusiasm for each day is evident, that listlessness translates to his performance and leaves the audience to wonder whether the film would be better off without him. The supporting cast includes a cameo by Vincent D'Onofrio as a shifty corrupt cop and Ellen Barkin as a foul-mouthed FBI agent, whose performance is completely unexpected but definitely welcome.
Brooklyn's Finest isn't the greatest cop drama. At its best it's a character-driven story of desperate men doing desperate things in desperate situations; at its worst, however, it reveals itself as a film riddled with clichés and happenstance.