Friday, 18 March 2011


Not satisfied with whatever he learned from Training Day, in Brooklyn's Finest Antoine Fuqua takes that movie and multiplies it by three. Training Day had a familiar but testy take on police corruption, and here we get three takes, presented in a framework whose stories both parallel each other and eventually intersect, which is quite a clever bIt of writing. And Fuqua, best-known as an action director, is good at wringing as much action mileage out of it as possible. The problem is that each situation's premises are more than just familiar, they border on cliché, in much the same way Brooklyn borders and melds into Queens.

Take Tango (Don Cheadle) who's the undercover guy from Deep Cover, in so deep he's lost his wife and is desperate to get out, and offered the chance to do so only if he'll betray his friend Casanova (Wesley Snipes, for whom this was a welcome return to the screen). And there's Eddie (Richard Gere) who's channelling his Paul Newman as the old veteran cop from Fort Apache: The Bronx, but that was in another borough and long ago. It's an interesting take, because he's still a beat cop, who gets by not as much by ignoring the job as not taking chances with it. And where Newman had a doomed relationship with a nurse who used heroin as her vacation, Gere wants to retire with the hooker Chantal (Shannon Kane) who shows him some compassion but is, after all, a hooker.

Finally, there's Ethan Hawke as Sal, the corrupt drugs cop in desperate need of cash to buy a new house which isn't infected with wood mold, which is killing his asthmatic wife (Lili Taylor), pregnant with twins they have no space for and can't afford. Hawke's first scene is a powerful one, as he executes Vincent D'Onfrio as they talk in his car; he turns out to be a bad cop who's possibly talked too much; Hawke needed the money. The script, by Michael C Martin, is very good in the way the three stories mirror each other, and indeed in the use of mirrors and reflections, because everyone has two faces, everyone is playing a role, and everyone has a different agenda. But none of them can get what they want.

The movie is best when the characters feel pressure; Gere goes stoic and silent when asked to present an acceptable version of his rookie partner's shooting a kid. When Gere's retirement day arrives, his badge gets dumped into a box in a drawer of a desk in an empty room, meaningless tin. Tango may have to act to prevent a gang member from being thrown off a roof; he's been accused of being the informer Tango actually is. Tango is pressured by his handler (Will Patton) and an ambitious tough fed (Ellen Barkin) both of whom are playing roles we know well, and it's thankless; no matter how touch she is, how slimy he is, they can't bring new depth to the parts.

The stories come together, eventually, as Sal seeks the big score he's missed, and Tango seeks revenge for Cas' execution, in the same place, and Eddie starts to act like a cop only after he's stopped being one—following up a missing person he recognises, and winding up in the same place. Here, although it's somewhat sentimental, the movie avoids the worst cliches, and the ultimate resolution doesn't really cut corners. Everyone's reduced to a single role, and pays the price, or gets the reward, for playing out that role.

It's very well done, and very well acted, and you can see why actors like working with Fuqua. But Brooklyn's Finest lacks that small spark of originality which would set it apart from the usual cop movies. Which is a shame, because there is a lot to like about it.

Brooklyn's Finest (2009) directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Michael C Martin is out on DVD

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