By Malice Intended of Planet Ill
In the Borough of Brooklyn, three cops are fast approaching their breaking point. Detective Salvatore “Sal” Procida (Ethan Hawke) is a family man whose salary as a cop cannot cover his financial obligations. Detective Clarence “Tango” Butler (Don Cheadle) is an undercover cop whose loyalty to drug dealer Casanova “Caz” Phillips (Wesley Snipes) makes an already difficult assignment nearly impossible. Officer Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere) is a burned out uniform cop who is mere days from retirement. None of these men know each other, yet their paths will inevitably cross as the walls close in on them.
Brooklyn’s Finest is director Antoine Fuqua’s first hard boiled cop drama since the immensely popular and Oscar winning Training Day. It covers much of the same territory, albeit from various points of view. It follows three separate plot lines that converge in the final act, and unlike its predecessor it does not feature a respected actor playing against type. It’s a more traditional and low key affair.
Visually the film goes for intensity and immediacy. Tight close ups and medium shots suggest a suffocating environment. The action alternates from congested city streets to the rooftops and hallways of the Van Dyke houses in Brownsville. These characters live in a self contained world, both internally and externally. Patrick Murguia’s cinematography frames Brooklyn as a claustrophobic labyrinth and harkens back to the films of the 1970’s. This is the grittiest the Big Apple has looked in quite a while.
Writer Michael C. Martin provides the characters with dialogue that surpasses the usual tough guy banter associated with films of this type. The excessively profane exchanges suggest the fragile nature of the alpha male posturing that dominates this world. All of these men are in a line of work that requires them to stay “in character” at all times. The words these characters speak are meant to maintain the façade and hide weakness. Michael C. Martin gives us cops who struggle to hold their fabricated personas together.
Brooklyn’s Finest maintains an aura of gritty realism and plausibility almost to the very end. Unfortunately, predictable patterns make themselves increasingly evident as the film moves along. This ultimately undermines the dramatic structure and robs the final act of its visceral punch. The conclusion feels like the culmination of plot contrivances rather than a powerful story that develops organically. It is the very definition of poeticism.
The earnest performances imbue the characters with a sense of empathy. Don Cheadle is sometimes less than convincing as the frazzled Tango, but his commitment to the role eventually wears us down. Wesley Snipes reveals an unexpected side to his onscreen persona. Casanova is a far cry from New Jack City’s narcissistic and ruthless Nino Brown. He is a weathered veteran, made cautious by his years of hustling. Ethan Hawke infuses every scene he’s in with nervous energy.
One has to admire the intentions of Brooklyn’s Finest. It seeks to move beyond the more titillating and superficial elements of the standard police procedural. Its reach exceeds its grasp, and its adherence to cop movie conventions nearly does it in. Thankfully, its strong points keep it from buckling under completely. Though less than perfect, Brooklyn’s Finest is not without merit or interest. It is a satisfactory, if not exceptional, entry into a tried and true genre. 3.25 out of 5
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