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Brooklyn’s Finest

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes

(Millennium Films, Thunder Road Pictures, and Nu Image Films; US DVD: 6 Jul 2010; UK DVD: 18 Oct 2010)

As soon as the blood-red gothic font pops up during the opening credits, it’s pretty clear Brooklyn’s Finest won’t be a tongue-in-cheek detective story. There will be no comic relief, no amusing anecdotes, and probably a morose, ultra serious finalé with bullets flying and people dying. That doesn’t mean everyone’s going to kick it by the end, but it seems unlikely one or more of our four stars will walk into the sunset with a smile on his face.


Director Antoine Fuqua, who helmed other grim pictures like Training Day and Tears of the Sun, continues his dark and disappointing streak via three interlacing, cliché-ridden cop stories. First, there’s Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere), a veteran patrolman days away from retirement when he’s asked to help groom young rookies out on the streets. Following a less than stellar career as a cop, it should come as no surprise his training techniques prove less than effective. Perhaps the captain should have known better than to give the job to a guy who’s half in the bag by noon and uses his off hours frequenting prostitutes.


Oh, well. It’s not like the rest of the force is populated with winners. Salvatore “Sal” Procida (Ethan “Handsome” Hawke) kicks off the film by shooting a friend to steal some extra money for his overpopulated household. Oh, he’s not a bad guy. He needs that money… to buy a bigger house. Sure, his wife may be having a bad reaction to the mold in their walls, but does that really justify killing and stealing even if it’s from drug dealers?


Why not pose the moral quandary to some actual hooligans? I’m sure undercover agent Clarence “Tango” Butler (Don Cheadle) would have some interesting anecdotes considering he’s been hanging out with degenerates long enough for a few of them to become his friends. In fact, his childhood pal Caz (Wesley Snipes) just got sprung from the joint and is looking to get back in the game. Normally, the veteran officer would know better than to aid a convicted felon, but he’s become so frustrated with the decisions of his higher-ups that he’s questioning what side is the right one. 


If any of these tropes sound familiar, don’t bother trying to pair them up with an exact film. It could be any cop drama, comedy, or action flick from the past 50 years. The only new spice Fuqua and screenwriter Michael C. Martin can add to the mix is the aforementioned dose of heavy-handedness. If there was something new happening in the story to take the audience’s minds off the film’s banality, then perhaps the depressed tone would be as effective as Fuqua imagined.


Instead, everyone just kind of plods along for more than two hours. It’s one thing if a film has the common courtesy to get over itself and end after an appropriate hour and 45-minutes, but 132-minutes is just too long to dwell in such an unappealing place. It is touching to see each character get a full, if formulaic, arch, though. Don Cheadle, never a quitter despite appearing in some pretty average films over the years, gives a strong performance, even if his character doesn’t allow him much room to breathe. 


The same goes for Snipes in his first role on the big screen in six years. He doesn’t have much to do, and it would have been a treat to see him in full-on Simon Phoenix mode (his role in Demolition Man, as if you could possibly forget), but the cagey vet shows he’s still got a bit left in the tank after all.


Hawke and Gere are shockingly disappointing, though, even at portraying mediocre characters. Hawke just pulls the same shtick he’s been hawking for years – he gets angry, becomes conflicted, and then scrunches up his face for most of the movie. It’s fine if you liked him in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, but it’s just one more unoriginal aspect heaped onto a film already overflowing with repetition. 


Gere is the real letdown. Though the character is far from groundbreaking, Gere had a chance at doing something distinctive for his career. He’s been the romantic lead more times than I can count and has even taken some action roles here and there, but playing a man haunted by past and current mistakes is something atypical for the silver-haired leading legend. Rather than taking full advantage, though, Gere coasts through the movie without adding anything fresh to a role Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis, or Mel Gibson could have slept through. 


Perhaps that’s the central problem with Brooklyn’s Finest in general. The parts, people, and actions are all interchangeable. Even the deleted scenes included on the DVD are closer to alternate cuts or extended takes that could have fit just as well as the pieces already in place (though I’m glad they didn’t – the scenes stretch on for more than 30-minutes of extra time). One alternate ending actually provides a momentary glimmer of hope.


To keep from spoiling too much, let’s just say one of our antiheroes goes fishing all by his lonesome, lets a slight smirk slip over his lips, and then blows his brains out. He may not have walked into the sunset, but at least he had a smile on his face.

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Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.


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