Biting hard on the gritty cop genre, Director Antoine Fuqua over-directs himself into a pretty darned good film with “Brooklyn’s Finest.” While familiar to a fault, the man who gave us “Training Day” understands that the bad cop genre might never get old.
Eddie (Richard Gere) has never been much of a police officer. With just days to go to complete his 22 years making him eligible for full retirement, Eddie wakes up each morning and shoves the cold barrel of a hand-gun in his mouth. He even pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. His girl, a lovely, but popular prostitute, asks him why there’s no bullets in his gun. The metaphor is heavy, but for Eddie, it means more than anything else in the world.
Tango (Don Cheadle) is one slick cat. He proudly drives his perfect black BMW stealthily through the streets of a run-down government development seeming to have not a care in the world. He’s done his time in the big house and came out a better criminal than when he went in. With gold around his neck, a 9mm always close at hand, and youngsters at his beck and call, everyone thinks he’s the baddest dude on the block. But what they don’t know might be Tango’s ultimate undoing. Tango ain’t no criminal.
Sal’s a criminal. He’s a family man too. And a cop ta’boot. His work doesn’t pay enough but gives him access to almost enough money to feed his addiction. Sal’s not addicted to drugs or alcohol but to something far more potent—rising expectations. And for Sal that means taking what’s not his, even if he has to kill to do it.
“Brooklyn’s Finest” is a very manicured film experiment. Like Joe Carnahan’s “Narc,” the movie uses camera techniques to manipulate audience temperatures. When Antoine Fuqua came to Atlanta and screened the movie he talked about changing the color of the lighting for each of his three main characters. It helped him keep them apart in his mind, because he often thought of them as three parts of one person.
The story is somewhat fractured narratively, but each story-line is fairly well-developed. Initially feeling like three short stories, Fuqua works from a clever script by first time screenwriter Michael C. Martin that connects the three stories in some ways better than others. Gere is well cast and his story remains the most distant. Cheadle feels wrong for the role of Tango but makes us believe him as his character begins to lose purpose.
Ethan Hawke is flat out marvelous as Sal. Cynics might sneer at Hawke’s tweaked turn here, but at one point the expression of utter despair on his face captured my attention. And considering that the film opens with Hawke as Sal having a conversation with a criminal played by the master of facial contortion, Vincent D’Onofrio, I wondered if D’Onofrio had a hand in Hawke’s scowl. Either way, after his fine work here, I’m hoping to see more of Hawke emoting, and hopefully in bigger movies.
The cast here is impressive. I mentioned to Director Fuqua that he had a deep bench and I liked seeing Ellen Barkin back in good form. Barken plays the vicious Agent Smith, curling her lip and acting all saucy. She’s like a pit bull in this film. Fuqua, who may have been kidding, told me that she acted in the film for nothing.
The cop genre lis ong overdue for some gentrification. The tired formulas employed for more than 40 years have really migrated to television making the kind of story-telling attempted in “Brooklyn’s Finest” rare these days on the big screen. But when the cast is this sincere and talented and the director commits himself wholly to the project, a fully crafted and worthy film results. And “Brooklyn’s Finest” is worthy of your attention.