There have been many incarnations of the New York cop film over the years, but “Brooklyn’s Finest” stands alone because it is much more than a story about the boys in blue. The film is jam-packed with A-list actors and a familiar director (Antoine Fuqua of “Training Day”), yet still surprises on so many levels. Not just about police officers, three men with different lives, or Post 9-11 New York, “Brooklyn’s Finest” digs deep into the ambiguity in morality and the grey areas of life. It is a portrait of a city, and the complexity of the lives within.
Filmed in the projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn, Fuqua takes us into a crime center of the city. There is an inherent grittiness in this film, in everything from the dingy look of the film with a lot of fluorescents, to the Brooklyn accents and street slang. The story follows three police officers on the job- one near retirement, the other clinging to the remnants of his life before going undercover, and the third looking for a way to support his ever-growing family. Essentially the struggle of men trying to get through a day in a tough city. The three officers are played by Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke, respectively. All three characters rarely appear in the same scenes together, but each actor gives one their best performances here.
The pacing is slow but purposeful, and the buildup of tension is expertly executed; the likes which is not seen often. Somehow, Fuqua gets the three plotlines to climax at the same time multiple times throughout the film without it seeming contrived, which is quite a feat for a movie that could have been riddled with clichés and blatantly obvious plot devices. The development of each character is sufficient to care to follow them, even though Gere’s character is less developed than the other two. With more careful examination though, his character has important undertones. The lack of expression is clearly pertinent to Gere’s character; he is beaten down and cynical after years of exposure to crime, a shadow of whatever man he used to be.
Hawke pushes himself to an extreme, even changing the accent and tone in his voice, which have not been reminiscent of any other role he has played. Hawke embraces his character, a man pushing the boundaries to try and provide a better life for his family. He carries himself in a desperate way that constantly puts you on edge. Even though every performance is grade-A in this film, Hawke’s stands out amongst the rest, only if for the sheer departure this role is for him with respect to his other performances, he is really at the top of his game here. It is clear that Hawke and Antoine have both grown with this film from their previous excellent work together in “Training Day.”
Cheadle is also phenomenal as the man on the edge, trying to balance his police duties with his ever-growing loyalty to the gang members he is working with. The relationship between the head drug dealer played by Wesley Snipes, and Cheadle’s undercover is compelling and leaves you guessing what both of them will do until the conclusion.
With the cast rounded off by Snipes, Ellen Barkin, Lili Taylor and Will Patton, each one playing a character well-formed and memorable even though their screen time is limited.
What’s really notable is that in a film that doesn’t even run 2 ½ hours, it manages to flesh out the three main characters and balance the three storylines well enough that jumping back and forth from the stories is neither distracting nor hard to follow. Just when you think you like one storyline more, the other peaks your interest. Even though the storylines also intersect, it is in a crafted and minimal way, and not contrived feeling. If the three cops run into each other it’s because they work in the same precinct, and not for some unlikely coincidental meeting.
Joining the ranks of other great films, “Brooklyn’s Finest” showcases a stellar cast in their top form, and has a strong script which manages to follow three storylines and be cohesive and fully developed. The choices that the “good guys” and “bad guys” have to make create empathy for both sides- further twisting the moral questions Fuqua and screenwriter Michael C. Martin raise within the story. Overall enjoyable, intense, and memorable, this film is the finest to come along in a long while.