The performances and directing are reminders of why the cop drama will always be one of the most entertaining and enduring genres.
Director Antoine Fuqua’s 2001 film Training Day was a brilliant meditation on how police officers are constantly faced with what is right and what is wrong and how sometimes the determining factors are rather blurry or subjective. Brooklyn’s Finest, on the other hand, focuses on how police officers handle the job and how each survives the career they’ve chosen. The film is very effective in this respect, but it fails by collapsing under its own weight by piling on too much story and far too much action.
Over the course of one week, we follow three police officers in the Brooklyn Police Department, each with very different roles. Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere) is a uniform officer with a very questionable past on the force who is seven days away from retirement. He is beaten, tired and just trying to make it one more week if the job doesn’t kill him or he doesn’t kill himself first. Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) is a high-strung narcotics officer who is constantly tempted to bend the rules in order to provide a better life for his wife and children. The stress of scraping together enough money for a down payment on a new house has driven Sal to become more cavalier in his work and moral choices. Clarence Butler (Don Cheadle), a.k.a. Tango, is an undercover officer that has spent two years infiltrating the drug ring of the BK housing project, the most crime-ridden neighborhood in the city.
The film works by exemplifying the starkly different stressors and factors affecting each of the officers. The script, however, is just too packed with events that the characters must endure in order to make it to the climatic and disturbing end. Too much attention is placed on the smaller, more insignificant events that Eddie, Sal and Clarence experience. Michael. C. Martin, who wrote the script, could have streamlined the action by building towards only the finale and leaving out the tangential plot points that really aren’t essential to the story.
Fuqua, however, has still managed to produce a very good film. As a director, Fuqua is very skilled at building tension in his films. He has a keen sense of drawing out the suspense just long enough to keep the audience’s attention without boring them. Fuqua is also masterful at seamlessly moving from one story to another without ever making an abrupt jump; this is not an easy accomplishment.
The acting is stellar throughout the film, especially by the three main actors. Gere really challenges himself in his role and truly embodies the beaten down, apathetic officer who has been on the job too long to care anymore; everything pisses him off, especially the people he is trying to help. Hawke is also wonderful as we can see the physical and psychological toll his self-doubt and inner conflicts have taken on him. Fuqua clearly chose Hawke for the role since it is the complete opposite of the wide-eyed newbie he played in Training Day.
As always, though, Cheadle steals every scene he appears in and, maybe more than any other character, we feel for the drama and danger he is going through. We can see why his loyalties are being tested because his adopted criminal family, including Wesley Snipes as a recently released kingpin, is more willing to protect him than his own boss. Cheadle conveys his performance through his face. Without speaking a single line of dialogue, we know exactly what is happening in his character’s mind. This is the sign of a truly gifted actor.
Brooklyn’s Finest is a fine film, if slightly too long. The actors’ performances and the film’s wonderful directing are reminders of why the cop drama will always be one of the most entertaining and enduring genres of film. | Matthew F. Newlin