Many things about the Antoine Fuqua film “Brooklyn’s Finest,” starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke, work, and many things don’t.
The film takes place in present day Brooklyn, and Fuqua (“Training Day,” “Tears of the Sun” and “Shooter”) sets his film up to follow in the style of Sidney Lumet. It just has that feel, the grit, the edge, and the attempt at realism.
Hawke plays Sal, a corrupt police officer, devout Catholic, and father of four. His wife, played by the underused Lili Taylor, is pregnant with twins. He is panicked that he won’t have enough money for the new children and decides to do whatever it takes to make ends meet, even if it means stealing.
Cheadle plays Tango, a tough, hip, drug dealing gang member who is also an undercover cop who has spent years in this particular job. His best friend, Caz, played by Wesley Snipes, and the rest of his gang have no idea of his alter ego, or his meetings on the sly with Will Patton and Ellen Barkin, who play his outside contacts on the force.
Tango wants desperately to get back to his outside life, but is asked to do one last job before he is released, which is to set Caz up to be caught, which he doesn’t want to do.
Gere plays Eddie, a cop who is good to the core. Eddie just wants to do his job and go home at the end of the day. In fact, Eddie has a lot to look forward to in seven days – his retirement.
But just as he can smell the roses, he is asked to take around a rookie cop to show him the ropes, something Eddie does not want to do, feeling he is too inexperienced and not ready for the streets.
These three story lines run independently of each other and are weaved quite skillfully together, and never leave you feeling bored or wanting more. They unfold in a manner like everyday life, just enough to cradle you off to the next scene.
Fuqua does move his cast along at a slow pace in the beginning, but not too slow, and then builds up the tension just as a good thriller should.
The problem is in Michael C. Martin’s script, and some of the performances. Martin has no real script writing experience and it shows in this film. There are some fine moments, but most of that is because of the skilled actors making the script work.
As for the performances, Hawke shuffles around on screen all sullen and gaunt, and looks like he is there to make a paycheck. It’s been a while since Hawke has had something worth watching on screen and this role is yet another one of his lackluster performances. In fact, he only comes to life in his final moments of the film and by then, it’s too late.
Cheadle, always good in any role he chooses, is no different here, however, his role suffers from Martin’s bad stereotypical writing of a Brooklyn gang member. He does all he can with some of the films worst writing. As does Snipes, who is back on the screen after a two-year hiatus. Even Barkin (who is a joy to see on film again) and Patton, veteran actors themselves, can’t breathe life into their stiff dialogue.
The winner in this film, and surprisingly so, is Gere. He plays his role as the soon to be retired cop with just enough understatement that he teeters ever so slightly on being boring, but isn’t. Somewhere in his career Gere has learned how to act, and his over-it-all, quiet attitude in this film comes to a well-deserved end. It’s great to watch him work in this film.
Sadly, his performance is not enough to save this film. Is it a good rental? Absolutely. Should you spend full price to see it? No. Save your money, and wait for the DVD release, at least you’ll get to see some cool extras.