Dir:Antoine Fuqua. US. 2008. 125mins.
The inherent difficulties of the police officer’s life are examined in Brooklyn’s Finest, an ambitious drama that follows three different New York cops through the moral grey areas of their day. Director Antoine Fuqua has examined this terrain before in Training Day, but here he attempts a grander portrait of the many shades of corruption that can wreak havoc on even the most honourable policeman. But despite several good performances from a cast that features Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and a superb Ethan Hawke, Brooklyn’s Finest has difficulty being as emotionally involving as it would like.
With a star-studded cast - and director Fuqua’s involvement with Training Day - Brooklyn’s Finest should be able to attract fans of both crime thrillers and serious dramas. However, the challenge for Brooklyn’s Finest will be to distinguish itself in its marketing from several recent corrupt-cop dramas such as The Departed, Street Kings and Righteous Kill.
Brooklyn’s Finest traces the lives of three Brooklyn cops: burned-out Eddie (Gere), who’s a week from retirement; aggressive narcotics officer Sal (Hawke), who’s been stealing from drug dealers to support his wife and kids; and Tango (Cheadle), a veteran undercover cop who has begun to lose track of his ‘real’ life. Over the course of several days, these three separate storylines unfold, only coming together near the film’s conclusion.
Judging from the film’s sweeping scope and intricate narrative structure, director Antoine Fuqua seems to be shooting for an epic New York crime drama worthy of Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee. But while Fuqua and cinematographer Patrick Murguia invest the Brooklyn locations with a gritty authenticity, Michael C Martin and Brad Caleb Kane’s screenplay occasionally stumbles over genre cliches. Gere’s close-to-retirement officer and Cheadle’s in-too-deep undercover cop can’t escape a sense of familiarity, despite some intriguing twists on these familiar character types. In addition, the film’s overall thesis that idealistic young policemen all eventually succumb to disillusionment is not particularly fresh. Fuqua deftly moves all three storylines along, but the story’s conventional narrativestalls the dramatic momentum.
The exception to narrative problems elsewhere is Ethan Hawke’s tortured Sal, who is desperate to move his family to a bigger home but simply cannot afford it on his pitiful salary. As a last-ditch effort to secure a down payment for the house, he turns crooked, killing criminals and stealing their money. As a variation on his spineless character from Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Hawke is terrific playing a man who wants to believe he’s still good but who is rapidly losing his soul.
As for the other lead performances, Gere provides his usual soulfulness, while Cheadle is typically intense and empathetic. The highlight among the supporting cast is Brian F O’Byrne as Sal’s best friend and moral compass. Wesley Snipes plays the leader of the crime gang Cheadle has infiltrated - while the part isn’t well-developed, it does provide Snipes a welcome opportunity to return to the sort of serious acting he specialized in more than 15 years ago before turning to B-movie action films.
Thunder Road Films
Michael C Martin
Brad Caleb Kane
Brian F O’Byrne