Anchor Bay // 2010 // 132 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // July 6th, 2010
This is war. This is Brooklyn.
Poor Antoine Fuqua. After breaking through into the Hollywood mainstream with Training Day in 2001, he quickly became one of the hottest directors in town. Unfortunately, pretty much every movie he's made since then -- including Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, and Shooter -- failed to catch on with wide audiences and Fuqua's career kind of leveled off.
Now, in 2010, he's embracing his position as "the Training Day guy" by directing Brooklyn's Finest, a movie that has a whole lot in common with Fuqua's original breakthrough.
Brooklyn's Finest follows three New York cops in different states of career crisis: Ethan Hawke (Daybreakers) plays Sal, a deeply Catholic and deeply corrupt cop who turns to robbing from criminals to provide for his endless growing family and sick wife (Lili Taylor). Don Cheadle (Boogie Nights) is Tango, an undercover cop who has been under so long he's not even sure where his allegiances are anymore -- are they to his handler (Will Patton, Armageddon), who's doing his best to get Tango out, or are they to his old friend Caz (Wesley Snipes, New Jack City), a drug dealer who's recently been released from prison? The third story follows Richard Gere (The Jackal), a cop in his last days on the job, who has built a career on doing the bare minimum and is looking to close it out the exact same way. As the movie progresses, the three seemingly unrelated stories slowly overlap and intertwine until all of the main characters end up in the same dangerous location.
There's a lot to like about director Antoine Fuqua's latest dirty-cop epic Brooklyn's Finest, much of which is undone by the fact that we've seen so much of it before. The film boasts some excellent performances (as well as some that are not so excellent; some of the actors seem to be appearing in a different movie), a number of terrific scenes and some genuinely tense moments. Unfortunately, they're all in the service of a slightly bloated script and a movie that often confuses bleakness and overheated theatrics for honest drama. Not all of Brooklyn's Finest works, though it's rarely less than compelling.
The movie faces an uphill battle almost from the outset, as it presents as its three major characters three of the oldest cop-movie clichés out there: the burned-out cop about to retire, the undercover cop who's in too deep and the cop who's wracked with guilt and torn between right and wrong. Where the movie surprisingly succeeds, though, is in exploring these characters beyond just the cliché -- a technique that pays off for every story line except for Ethan Hawke's. His, unfortunately, never achieves liftoff; the Catholic stuff is too heavy-handed, the beats too familiar and, surprisingly, the acting is some of the weakest in the movie. Hawke isn't entirely convincing as a Brooklyn Italian, and he pitches his performance with a kind of sweaty, overheated intensity that gives the effect of an actor trying too hard. I get that he's going for jittery and paranoid, but the film is already so theatrical in style that Hawke's scenes tend to go too far. Cheadle and, even more so, Gere actually dial their performances back and go for the reality of their characters, and the film is all the better for it. They're less characters in a movie than believable, flawed human beings.
The supporting cast is equally uneven. Wesley Snipes, playing a kind of Nino Brown 20 years later, goes a long way towards reminding us why he was a movie star in the first place. His "comeback" work in the movie is reason enough to see it, and I hope he continues to be smart about picking smaller, good roles like this one. Will Patton is also great as Don Cheadle's police department contact -- all bureaucratic sincerity and calming concern. There are also several cast members from The Wire who show up in supporting roles, which not only lends the movie an air of authenticity but also carries with it a lot of residual good will from perhaps the best cops-and-dealers story ever told. But, then, every once in a while an actor like Ellen Barkin will wander into the movie and be way over-the-top, reminding us that what we're actually watching is pulp masquerading as powerful adult drama. It's an uncomfortable mix in tone -- somewhere between the grittiness of Serpico and the craziness of Street Kings -- and it keeps Brooklyn's Finest from being totally successful.
Also getting in the movie's way is director Fuqua, who, perhaps reaching for the same Training Day weight that put him on the map, insists on repeatedly pounding the viewer with the film's relentless bleakness. Yes, Brooklyn's Finest is a gritty drama, and, yes, it's evident from fairly early on that it's heading towards a kind of logical tragedy. I don't have a problem with any of that. But the way Fuqua puts the movie together is borderline oppressive. He knows how to compose a shot and build tension, and the photography (by Patrick Murguria) is absolutely first-rate. It's far too long, though, and often badly paced, telegraphing where it's going by forcing us to wait for payoffs that we know are coming (to be fair, though, there are some genuine surprises here and there). Fuqua also seems a bit unaware that Brooklyn's Finest is very much a "movie" movie, and that most of its gravity is movie gravity. He shoots for epic but sometimes only achieves bloat.
The Brooklyn's Finest Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific. The 2.40:1 1080p transfer is very solid, with lots of fine detail (particularly in facial and skin textures) and deep, inky blacks; for a movie shot this much in shadow and darkness, that's pretty vital. Both the PCM and standard 5.1 audio tracks are good, delivering the dialogue clearly and cleanly and offering powerful, booming bursts of gunfire and violence. Both are involving, gripping audio tracks and actually help elevate the movie itself. Though there's a decent-sized selection of supplemental material, not much of it is very good. Director Fuqua sits down for a standard, often slow commentary track that's dry but sometimes informative. Also included is about a half hour of deleted and extended scenes, at least a few of which are worth watching simply for the performances contained within.
Rounding out the supplementary section is a collection of standard promotional featurettes taken from the movie's Electronic Press Kit: "Chaos and Conflict: The Life of a New York Cop," a general overview of the film's production; "Boyz N the Real Hood," about the location shooting; "An Eye for Detail," covering director Fuqua; "From the MTA to the WGA," about screenwriter Michael C. Martin, and, finally, "Three Cops and a Dealer," profiling the major characters and the actors playing them. Finally, a second disc is included with a digital copy of the movie, for playback on your computer or portable media device.
There's enough to like about Brooklyn's Finest to warrant a recommendation. It's a movie that's clearly trying to recreate the gritty cop dramas of the 1970s and nearly succeeds, only to be somewhat undone by some problematic directorial choices and an inconsistent tone. It's a movie that reaches too far for greatness and comes up short, but that's not such a bad thing. Sometimes, the success is in the trying. Brooklyn's Finest is that kind of movie.
Uneven, but Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy
* Official Website