Brooklyn’s Finest (18, 132 mins)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Offering the value of three police thrillers for the price of one, Brooklyn’s Finest is a bruising, but far from perfect drama from the director of Training Day. And given the way it follows three very different New York cops through their day jobs and personal lives, it certainly seems as though Antoine Fuqua has spent a lot of time watching The Wire in the years since he guided Denzel Washington to an Oscar.
Ethan Hawke’s narcotics’ officer wants to better the lives of his family, but with four kids and two more on the way he finds he can’t do it on an honest cop’s salary. Richard Gere is the cliché of the hard drinking, one week from retirement veteran who has given up on the world. Don Cheadle is deep undercover and wants out, although his association with Wesley Snipes’ gangster is going to put a strain on that.
With such familiarity of setup and content the execution becomes all important, and Brooklyn’s Finest is equal parts compelling and flawed. Each storyline offers something of interest but it’s sometimes so clichéd that most character actions or developments can be seen coming from a mile away.
Which makes it all the more frustrating because somewhere in there is a top drawer police thriller that could have been teased out with a little more discipline and tightness and at least 20 minutes off the running time. A lot of stuff is piled on then forgotten about, such as Gere mentoring a rookie, and a young black man murdered by a cop that looks like it’s going to become the film’s focus but disappears entirely.
As is par for the course in films where tortured men posture and shout at each other, it’s steeped in machismo. Even Ellen Barkin gets in on the tough guy act, turning up in a sizzling cameo to bellow profanities as a high ranking officer who wants Cheadle to put away Snipes.
For the longest time, Cheadle’s seems like the most vital thread before it falls away into confused motivations, leaving Gere’s as the most redemptive, even though for a while it looked like being the most pointless.
Fine actors elevate it; a wired Hawke, weary Gere and Cheadle offering more power and rage than he’s often allowed to show. It’s handsome and gritty, intense and grave, with admirable, far reaching intentions and layered characters.
And yet it never wholly offers the sort of moral examinations necessary to make it truly complex or memorable, while an overblown and unsatisfying finale suggests Fuqua was beginning to run out of ideas.