When Antoine Fuqua helmed the gritty powerhouse cop-drama that was TRAINING DAY, he raised the bar for the genre with a lot of help from the amazing actor that is Denzel Washington. That was original in its scope and direction and characters, which BROOKLYN’S FINEST is not…at first glance. The three main characters seem to be working formulaic story arcs we’ve seen a million times: the cop close to retirement, damaged by all he’s seen; the undercover cop getting lost in his character; the cop with the family tempted by the dirty money he sees everyday. But Fuqua manages to pull these stories together in an engaging (not contrived) manner – with great performances by the leads – and gives the audience a powerful glimpse into the borough with the tension we would imagine any cop would feel walking a beat in Brooklyn.
The three story arcs that converge in a weeks time in Brooklyn have Richard Gere playing the retiring cop Eddie Dugan who starts his day off with a low ball of Irish Whiskey right as he wakes up before putting an unloaded gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. He is separated from his wife, either causing or due to his affinity to frequent a prostitute (played by Shannon Kane), and he just needs to survive the week to collect his pension. He is not liked in the department, and has had an unimpressive career, which is why he still walks the beat after 22 years. Don Cheadle plays Clarence/Tango, a cop who has infiltrated the drug trade of the Brooklyn projects through a friendship with gangland heavy Casanova “Caz” Phillips (played well by Wesley Snipes – ironic that his character is recently released from prison). It is the friendship between Tango and Caz (yes, I thought about that movie, too), that causes Clarence’s conflict, especially as a Federal agent (a real ball-breaker played by Ellen Barkin) turns up the heat to send Caz right back to prison. And finally Ethan Hawke plays Detective Sal Procida, an intensely religious man with 4 kids and two more on the way with a wife (Lili Taylor) expecting twins who needs to move out of their house because of mold in the wood exacerbating her asthma. Sal is a “first through the door” guy in countless drug busts where mountains of cash are confiscated. He needs that cash for his family, and the lengths he will go to to get it are revealed quickly and shockingly.
Hawke almost seems to be playing a continuation of his character Jake Hoyt from TRAINING DAY, with that toughness and grit, but with a moral compass that is all out of whack, and we see him struggle with it affectively throughout the film. Gere plays Eddie Dugan as a complex character, who runs the gamut from apathetic to compassionate to suicidal through his final days and in a variety of situations, but he plays them all with subtlety, nothing over the top. He has a well-played scene with the New York actor Isiah Whitlock Jr. (from 25TH HOUR and countless “Law & Order” episodes) in which Gere really sells his sickness with the job he has done for 22 years. But Cheadle is the one that sells his character the best. As said before, this is a character we’ve seen before, but Cheadle is such a fine actor he creates it anew, and he plays the slow boil in a sympathetic manner that when he finally boils over, we genuinely care about its outcome. Wesley Snipes, Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar from “The Wire” who plays the Number 2 man in Caz’s gang) and Cheadle play well off of one another, and almost make you long for their story to have a movie all to themselves.
But nobody gets a movie all to themselves here. BROOKLYN’S FINEST is three tales converging on the projects of Brooklyn in a manner that didn’t seem thrown together. The characters bump into one another, or cross paths by happenstance, but their three stories are totally separate, and that is a credit to the screenwriter Michael C. Martin for resisting the temptation to converge them all to one final meeting spot for all the characters. Each story plays out as it should, and though the ending is somewhat anti-climactic, and oddly shot, we have tied up all loose ends…and been given a gut-wrenching glimpse into the lives of three cops in the borough that is Brooklyn.
Funny Random tidbits: This movie is released the same day as ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and in a scene between Richard Gere and his prostitute girlfriend, they are intimate (if you can be intimate with a prostitute) while Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” plays in the background.