Brooklyn's Finest Review
“It's not about right or wrong. It's about righter and wronger.” Brooklyn’s Finest is neatly summed up by its opening line. Three interweaving tales of gang violence, police corruption and social drama illustrate the large areas of grey that exist between the “good” and “bad” guys. Issues of honour, reward, loyalty, love, disillusionment, disappointment and betrayal are all touched upon. But the self-importance of that first line also crops up repeatedly in Antoine Fuqua’s film, which offers up a pick ‘n’ mix of tired clichés, stock characters, bloody action and chair-gripping suspense.
A tense opening scene introduces us to Sal (Ethan Hawke), a Catholic narcotics cop who has a rapidly expanding family and is desperate to move them out of their cramped, mould-infested home. He sees drug money right under his nose every day, and the temptation to pocket some is getting stronger and stronger. Also on the force is Eddie (Richard Gere), a patrolman of 22 years who has seven days left until retirement. Forced to break in a rookie cop on his beat, his cynicism about the force and the city he works for gets him in to trouble. Despised by his colleagues and separated from his wife, his only source of comfort comes from a hooker he regularly employs. Meanwhile, undercover cop Tango (Don Cheadle) is losing faith and patience with his superiors, and wants to get out of the drug ring he reports on. Denied promotion and increasingly reluctant to betray the leader (Wesley Snipes) he works for, his loyalty to the force appears to hang by a thread.
The three plotlines start off entirely separately, though naturally they start to intersect until the climax brings all three in to the same time and location, in a crime-ridden housing estate in New York. It’s the sort of fractured narrative seen in works like Pulp Fiction, and it is deployed well here. Of the three, it’s Gere’s retiring cop that captures the most interest. In his best role for several years, Gere makes Eddie a sympathetic and likeable character who, with an undistinguished career record, knows how to do his job whilst keeping his head down. One partner calls him a coward and Eddie barely reacts. It’s only after he has officially retired that he feels the need to exact justice and protect the weak. The touching moment where he hands in his badge, only for it to be tossed in to a box of spares, and asks “Is that it?” is one of the film’s best scenes.
There’s solid acting from the rest of the cast, though the script doesn’t give them much opportunity to break out of their characters’ stereotypes. Hawke, veteran of Fuqua’s Training Day, is fine as the fraught cop looking to grab some extra money, his increasingly disheveled appearance testament to his broken state of mind. His character naturally supplies the obligatory scene of the mixed-up good guy whispering to his priest in the confession box. Cheadle too is good as the undercover cop also in a crisis of conscience, while Snipes, in a relatively small role as the drug lord, at least doesn’t sleepwalk through the film as he has been known to do. There’s little room for women is this world of lawmen and lawlessness: the female characters are all either prostitutes, gangster molls or abductees, apart from Hawke’s pregnant wife (Lili Taylor) and Cheadle’s no-nonsense boss Ellen Barkin, both wasted in a handful of scenes.
Stereotypes extend to the world of the drug gangs as well, so there are plenty of gratuitous scenes of naked lap dancing girls. One issue this reviewer had was with the dialogue used by Snipes and his henchmen. So slang-ridden (or overcooked – your choice) was the language used between them that it was frequently difficult to understand what on earth they were talking about. Remember that scene in Airplane! where those guys talking in Jive needed a translator? Very much like that. Subtitles would have been appreciated.
The real strength of the film lies in Fuqua’s direction, which is occasionally flashy but otherwise gets the job done in a very effective way. The style, grit and suspense of Training Day is back in force here, with plenty of violence for those that like that sort of thing. Thankfully the action is of the old-school variety: slow-burning suspense and build-up, rather than Bruckheimer-esque noise and excess. It has the feel of being in the tradition of 70s cop thrillers like The French Connection, though surprisingly it refrains from going anywhere near a car chase. Instead Fuqua concentrates on the pressure that the police’s work exerts on its staff. It may trot out all the hoary old clichés and have nothing new to say about the drugs trade or the role of the police, but as an exercise in suspense, drama and action, Brooklyn’s Finest is a solid piece of work.