As soon as I saw the name of director Antoine Fuqua in the opening credits I sensed that “Brooklyn’s Finest” probably wasn’t going to celebrate the up side of policing in the NY borough. The “Training Day” director is a specialist when it comes to portraying dirty cops on screen, and here he showcases the “finest” policemen in Brooklyn’s 65th precinct, that is, if by “finest” you mean alcoholic, angsty, murderous and suicidal.
Mixing three stories Fuqua introduces Sal (Ethan Hawke), Eddie (Richard Gere) and Tango (Don Cheadle), three cops at different stages of their careers. The only thing that connects them is a station house in the 65th Precinct and severe dysfunction. Sal is a narco cop, tormented by the things he must do to support his growing family. Eddie is a burn out who clearly hasn’t taken his own advice of “not taking the job home” after work and Tango is an undercover cop who is close to being consumed by the job. The three struggle both personally and professionally until a fateful night when they end up in the same apartment block.
The bad cop drama became popular in the seventies and with only a few tweaks story wise has persevered to this day. Fuqua focuses on three characters straight out of Central Casting—the cop with nothing to live for, who is just days away from retirement, the policeman who turns bad to make extra money to help his family and the undercover officer who gets too close to the criminals he is supposed to arrest.
Clichés one and all, but the bad cop genre is one big gun toting cliché, and like romantic comedies, another formula based species, the trick is to make the characters as interesting as possible to disguise the banalities of their story arcs. On this score “Brooklyn’s Finest” is two thirds successful.
First, the good. Don Cheadle takes a hackneyed character—the angry street cop—and gives him some fire; a cliché, yes, but an unpredictable one. Cheadle deserves better material than this but he makes the best of it.
Ditto Ethan Hawke who can do desperate on-screen as well as any actor working today.
The weakest of the three is Gere’s Eddie. Gere isn’t an exactly magnetic actor at the best of times but here he simply isn’t believable as a man who wakes up, has a shot of scotch with a gun barrel chaser. The early morning drinking and pseudo suicide attempts are meant to give us insight into the character but come off as tired images recycled from better movies.
“Brooklyn’s Finest” is not a return to form for Fuqua after the career high of “Training Day” nine years ago and the professional sink hole he’s been in ever since.