cast: Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, and Ellen Barkin
director: Antione Fuqua
127 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2
review by Ian Sales
Apparently, the police force in New York’s borough of Brooklyn is either corrupt or incompetent. At least, that appears to be the message of this film. Antione Fuqua, of course, has done something similar before in Training Day, but how many films can you make about the dark blue underbelly of the NYPD before descending into cliché? Brooklyn’s Finest doesn’t even make an effort – it exists in some TV land of bad cops and badder villains, in which every policeman is either Irish or Italian and every gangster is black. But then, take a look at that cast list and you have to wonder how Fuque managed to attract so much A-list talent.
The answer, sadly, is easy. He hasn’t made a film, he’s made a portfolio. Brooklyn’s Finest feels like a film written and directed for its cast. It feels like an excuse for them to display their somewhat rusty acting chops. Brooklyn’s Finest is also one of those films which does not have a story per se, but is made up from a number of intersecting character arcs. Say what you like about Hollywood’s fixation on the three-act paradigm, but at least it produced films with definable beginnings, middles and ends; at least it resulted in films with narrative journeys to carry the audience from opening credits to the end-credit cross-promotional pop song.
The film opens with detective Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) sitting in a corner and talking to a criminal (Vincent D’Onofrio). They are discussing D’Onofrio’s recent acquittal, which apparently occurred because even though he broke a law it was in order to prevent a further and worse crime. Procida shoots him. Oh the irony: to lay bare the moral conundrum at the heart of vigilante justice only for it to immediately take place. Procida, it soon transpires, is in trouble financially. His family is growing and he needs a bigger house. But he does have the money for a deposit. So in every drug raid in which he takes place, he looks for any cash lying around which he can pocket.
Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere) is a beat cop one week away from retirement. His service record is unremarkable, and in fact his fellow officers consider him useless. He just wants to survive the next seven days. He is partnered with a rookie, who disagrees with his caution. So he is given another rookie… who lets a bad situation spiral out of control. So much so that the police force consider a cover-up.
Tango (Don Cheadle) is an undercover cop in a drugs gang, but he wants out. When the Feds, in the person of Agent Smith (Ellen Barkin), turn up, they tell Tango he must set up a deal to entrap gang leader Casanova Phillips (Wesley Snipes). But Phillips saved Tango’s life while he was undercover in the joint, and Tango owes him.
These three narratives seem to intersect at times, but have little to actually do with each other. This is all setup for a single moment at the end of the film in which two of the stories collide, but Dugan strides off into retirement as a redeemed man. Brooklyn’s Finest is not a comfortable film to watch. It is violent, it plays to stereotypes, and it has little to say to actually justify the misery onscreen. To say it is well-acted is superfluous – with the cast it has, it would be astonishing if it wasn’t.
Films which show corrupt American police officers are not thin on the ground. To stand out, one would have to be especially good. Brooklyn’s Finest doesn’t stand out. It’s a show-reel for its cast, and relies on cliché and stereotype to stitch together three stories which aren’t especially related. There are better films of this type out there.