Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Produced by Basil Iwanyk, John Langley, John Thompson and Elie Cohn
Written by Michael C. Martin
It struck me even back then as somewhat unusual and even slightly humorous that the two police/crime movies to hit theaters that year were actually throwbacks. “Cop Out” is a homage to The 1980’s Buddy Cop Movie. If you’ve seen “Lethal Weapon” “The Last Boy Scout” “Bulletproof” “Bad Boys” “Money Train” or “Running Scared” then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
BROOKLYN’S FINEST reminded me a lot of an old school cop movie from the 70’s or 80’s. Amped up with a lot more violence, drug use and sex but still, it’s a throwback to an era when directors, writers and actors weren’t afraid to make their characters unlikable and unsympathetic. Many of the characters in BROOKLYN’S FINEST do some pretty reprehensible things. Including the three police officers the movie follows as they walk a moral tightrope that threatens to break under them every day.
Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere) has been a beat cop for twenty-two years and he’s down to his last seven days before retirement. He has no family, no future and no desire to do anything more than ride out those last seven days as quietly as possible. The last thing he needs or wants is to be given an ambitious rookie to train. But his commanding officer appeals to his last crumb of pride; “Don’t you want your last week to mean something?”
Detective Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) needs money and a lot of it. He’s got a too small house full of kids and his wife (Lili Taylor) is pregnant with twins. On top of that, her lungs are clogged with wood mold that aggravates her asthma and jeopardizes the health of their unborn children. Sal heads up drug raids on crack houses where the bathtubs are full of money and he’s been helping himself here and there. But it’s not enough. The bills are piling up and there’s this brand new house he needs a down payment for.
Clarence Butler (Don Cheadle) aka ‘Tango’ is an extremely successful undercover detective. He’s been working the drug trade in Brownsville and is best friends with Casanova Phillips (Wesley Snipes) one of the most powerful and successful drug lords in Brooklyn. Tango, despite all his instincts and training has developed a real friendship with Casanova. A friendship that means nothing to his boss Lt. Hobarts (Will Patton) and an ambitious Federal Agent (Ellen Barkin). They want Tango to set up Casanova for a federal bust. It means a way out of the undercover game for Tango. A game that has already cost Tango his marriage and threatens his sanity, not to mention his life as Casanova has suspicions there’s a snitch in his camp.
Sounds like a hell of a thriller, doesn’t it? Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this but while it is entertaining enough; BROOKLYN’S FINEST isn’t exactly the home run you would think it would be from the cast and director. Remember that Antoine Fuqua is the director who gave us “Training Day” which really did put a new spin on the cop movie genre. But while watching BROOKLYN’S FINEST I got the distinct feeling of ‘been there, done that’. The influences of movies such as “Deep Cover” “New Jack City” “Cop” and “Report To The Commissioner” run through the movie. Not that that’s a bad thing. Not at all. But it’s just that there’s nothing ambitious about BROOKLYN’S FINEST and no attempt to bring anything new to this familiar story of When Good Cops Go Bad.
One of the major flaws is that I never got the sense I was watching one cohesive story. The three cops all work in the same precinct but never interact except for one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exchange between Dugan and Procida. And there’s a brief scene where Dugan and Tango literally bump into each other and that’s it. The movie is constantly bouncing between the three stories and quite honestly, the Dugan story sucks the life out of the other two. Every time we cut to Dugan the pacing and energy of the movie slowly dials down and when we get back to Tango’s story or Sal’s story, director Antoine Fuqua has to work twice as hard to regain that momentum back.
The acting is as good as you would expect from the cast. Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle are so good on screen together and their scenes snap, crackle and pop so much that you’ll wish the movie had been more about them. Cheadle also has some great scenes with Ellen Barkin as Federal Agent Smith. Barkin goes toe-to-toe with Cheadle in the acting ring and gives just as good as she gets.
Richard Gere is very good playing the soon to be retired Dugan. We’re told several times during the movie that Dugan’s career was ‘undistinguished’ and ‘unmemorable’ but I think he’s a guy who sees being a cop as just a job and not a Holy Calling. He’s not out to save the world like his ambitious trainee. He just wants to go home at the end of the day and drink himself into oblivion.
I did find it funny that the tanned, handsome, obviously well-fed, fit and distinguishably silver-haired Richard Gere is supposed to be the burnt-out alcoholic when it’s Ethan Hawke who really acts like one. With his greasy hair hanging in his face, pale as milk skin, twitchy mannerisms, chain smoking and looking as if he’s only read or heard about the beneficial personal daily use of soap and water, Ethan Hawke’s character is so wired it’s as if he’s about to run through the screen right at us screaming like a madman at any moment. It’s also funny that even though we’re constantly told the Gere character is a raging alcoholic we only see him take a drink twice during the movie’s 133 minutes running time.
So should you see BROOKLYN’S FINEST? I’d say yes but it’s not what I would call a Must See. Don’t get me wrong; it’s as solidly professional a movie as you could hope for. The acting and direction are right on point. But the story (or should I say stories) aren’t anything new and there’s some fancy juggling the writer has to do at the end to finally have the fates of the three cops all play out in the same building in Brownsville’s Van Dyke housing project that I didn’t entirely buy but what the hell. If you enjoy a down-and-dirty cop movie that isn’t afraid to wallow in its own excess of drugs, sex and violence then by all means check out BROOKLYN’S FINEST.
Rated R: And it lives up to its rating so don’t say I didn’t warn you. This movie has extremely vulgar language, brutal and bloody violence as well as graphic sex scenes.