Brooklyn's Finest

Brooklyn's Finest


Reviewed by: Nick Da Costa

Back in 2001, Los Angeles was the fire and Denzel Washington the Devil in Anton Fuqua’s Training Day. A ferocious, yet structurally finessed Faustian pact that lead to the director getting noticed in Hollywood. Unfortunately, and rather inevitably, it also lead to him spending the next eight years wallowing in the movie mire, either studio hamstrung or left handling unsuitable material.

It feels right, then, to see him back on familiar ground with urban drama Brooklyn’s Finest. Not only is it a return to form, the slick raucousness of Day has been tempered somewhat, with a brooding and moody power that makes up for what it lacks in originality.

Copy picture

Gone is the hellfire, replaced by a New York purgatory of sorts. No less heated, but much of the light has been expunged. A place where judgement hovers over three Brooklyn cops who while seemingly unconnected, all suffer the same wearing effects of combating crime.

Eddie (Richard Gere) is looking back on 22 years of a miserable career as a beat cop. He’s an alcoholic, burned out and near-suicidal. With seven days left before retirement he’s saddled with chaperoning rookies fresh out of the academy. One is an overly enthusiastic crusader, rankled by Eddie’s perceived cowardice, the other, unsure and unsettled by the chaos and violence on the streets. Both are doomed.

Tango (Don Cheadle) is undercover, snitching for his superiors as his life on the outside falls apart. Conflicted, he seeks promotion while protecting the target of his investigation, the drug kingpin Caz (Wesley Snipes). The same man who kept him alive in prison.

Sal (Ethan Hawke) works narcotics, heading up lucrative busts at a notorious housing projects where a promising student was gunned down by a dishonest cop. His precinct is feeling the pressure and so is he. With a growing family and a sick wife he needs cash to fund a move to safer and healthier home.

Familiar stories, yes, but they serve the fatalistic tone of the movie. A pall of depressed resignation hangs heavy over each character. While the title can be taken as an ironic attack on police corruption, its clearer when taken in support of these men who feel lost in the system, caught between crime and self-serving bureaucracy.

Let’s not get confused here, though. They aren’t without sin. But there’s no one revelling in the bounty, the seizures or the arrests. When Sal counts the money he’s obtained by less than moral means, he’s not the wolfish Detective Alonzo Harris from Training Day, he’s feverish, panicked and desperate. For all Tango’s success, he’s lost his identity, his wife and his moral certitude. Crucially, while we see their similarities, Fuqua keeps them apart - keeps them isolated and alone, except for the briefest, most incidental of encounters, until the film’s bleak conclusion.

The fact that one of Eddie’s recruits was an ex-marine says it all. Trained to a strict moral code for the battlefield, yet found wanting on the mean city streets. Unprepared and financially unsupported when they start, asked to lie and twist the truth they’re meant to protect during their service and then de-shielded and dismissed in a cursory conclusion. This is depressing stuff.

There’s no firebrand performance clamouring for attention. It’s actually more interesting to see how the film plays with performances from the actors' previous films. Hawke heading down the road he could have taken if he’d been more susceptible to Alonzo’s charms. Snipes still cutting an imposing figure, recalling a far more restrained Nino Brown from New Jack City, and seeing some of him in the wilder, less principled gangbangers attempting to take over.

And then we have Gere and one of his finest roles: Dennis Peck from Internal Affairs. Are we looking at his alternate future in Eddie? Dismayed at the naivety of those around him and broken by his experiences, his is the most interesting story. And while Fuqua regretfully fumbles his final moments, shoehorning in a perfunctory redemption theme, the shades of Taxi Driver - of a man who has relinquished a part of himself to clean up the city - give some weight to the final shot.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2010
Share this with others on...
Brooklyn's Finest packshot
Trouble brews for three New York cops.
Amazon link

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writer: Michael C. Martin, Brad Kane

Starring: Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Vincent D'Onofrio, Don Cheadle, Ellen Barkin, Lili Taylor

Year: 2009

Runtime: 133 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2009

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Training Day