Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter) delivers another tour de force gritty, urban crime drama centered around an ensemble cast of the finest character actors working today, including Wesley Snipes, Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle and Richard Gere. Don’t be confused by the moniker ‘Character actor’ here, these guys give standout performances and each have carried more than one film and created some of the most memorably characters in cinema history. Who can forget Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever or the Blade franchise? Ethan Hawke in Dead Poet’s Society, Reality Bites, and Hamlet? Richard Gere needs no introductions and by all measure delivers some of his best work here. Don Cheadle is steadily amassing a varied and award-winning career with impassioned, often volatile characters from the recent Hotel Rwanda all the way back to his small, but memorable part in the late Dennis Hopper’s 1988 film Colors.
It’s refreshing to find so many veteran actors sharing the screen together, building on the ensemble theme that immediately reminds one of films like Heat and of course Fuqua’s previous film Training Day. From the very first scene we’re drawn into the world of the story where two men, who might be anyone, carry on a conversation inside a barely lit car in some nameless alley in what might be any city across America. The dialog is forthright and interesting, part run-on sentences like old stories sometimes do and the rest is a mishmash of colloquialisms and getting to know you chit-chat. The scene is reminiscent of the opening from Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow where Djay (Terence Howard) is explaining the importance of what his prostitute Nola does in the grand scheme of their business arrangement. Fuqua doesn’t inundate us with choppy camera work or flashbacks, there are no imminent threats only this dialog that serves as a preamble for the rest of the movie as much as a warning: This is a dangerous place and among Brooklyn’s Finest are some tangled, often dangerous who are equally examples of Brooklyn’s Worst.
Where others in this genre often fail is to define a realistic perspective about divergent interests that cross the line between cops and robbers similarly caught up in the day-to-day life of inner city brutality. For fans of Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest make and keeps its promises with a well written script by freshman scribe and one-time subway flagman, Michael C. Martin. The dialog is sharp to the ear and meaningful, a mixture of racial tension and class struggles where these characters might just as well be your friends and neighbors. At one point Ethan Hawke’s character, sitting around a table in his basement with his cop buddies playing poker, erupts when just a glimpse of the world he works in comes in contact with his child. For the most part these are decent enough people who just happen to live in a void-like world where up is sometimes down and the line between good guys and bad guys isn’t as easily discernible as the color of their hat, much less their skin or whether they put a badge and gun on in the morning or just a gun.
Where Brooklyn’s Finest surpasses other crime dramas and police procedurals is that it takes the time to develop character through interesting, often interconnected dialog that is and isn’t about life on the streets. An aging, burned out cop (Richard Gere) is in stark contrast to his younger, perhaps more ambitious but no less conflicted counterpart played competently by Ethan Hawke – though in all honesty I haven’t seen a range in character or varied performance by Hawke in quite some time. His character here is not all that different from the cop he played in director Fuqua’s Training Day with Denzel Washington but this in and of itself isn’t a real problem, only one worth mentioning. I was quite happy to see Wesley Snipes here, though his character was strained and sketchy at best without enough real screen time to develop properly and with lasting significance. Don Cheadle reprises his all too familiar role as an undercover cop drawn between opposing worlds of right and wrong, caught in the middle and ultimately a plot point character that like Snipes, isn’t given enough time to fully mature on-screen.
Brooklyn’s Finest is the kind of movie that plays more like the pilot episode of an upcoming series for HBO or Showtime, a brief encounter with characters and scenarios that are all at once inviting, although familiar, but before we can commit to the story and characters people die as they often do in films like this and we’re left with a message about living and dying and moving on in a world where the everyday possibility of seeing tomorrow is not always as easy as crossing the street to get to the other side.
This article was originally posted in October 2010 and revised to date.