Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Movie Review: Brooklyn's Finesy

Brooklyn’s Finest ***
Directed by:
Antoine Fuqua
Written By: Michael C. Martin.
Starring: Richard Gere (Eddie), Don Cheadle (Tango), Ethan Hawke (Sal), Wesley Snipes (Caz), Brian F. O'Byrne (Ronny Rosario), Will Patton (Lt. Bill Hobarts), Michael K. Williams (Red), Lili Taylor (Angela), Shannon Kane (Chantel), Ellen Barkin (Agent Smith), Vincent D'Onofrio (Carlo).

Brooklyn’s Finest is a kind of throwback to the crime films I remember from the late 1980s and early 1990s before Quentin Tarantino came in an forever changed the genre with Pulp Fiction. I’m thinking of films like Q&A, New Jack City, Carlito’s Way and Sugar Hill. Films with large casts that spin a web of crime and corruption around their characters but play it completely straight. On that level, I enjoyed the film. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Brooklyn’s Finest may not be a great crime film, but it is an entertaining one, right up to the cheesy freeze frame that ends the movie – something I don’t think I’ve seen in more than a decade (and, it must be said, with good reason).

The movie essentially follows three different cops in Brooklyn over the course of one week. Eddie (Richard Gere) has one week left on the job before retirement. He has not had a great career as a cop – which is why after 22 years on the job, he is still in uniform. He has a drinking problem, his wife has left him, and he spends his free time with a prostitute (Shannon Kane). He is assigned a young cop on his first shift to show the ropes to. But Eddie stopped caring years ago, and his cynicism annoys his new partner. Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a good Catholic – meaning essentially that he already has 5 kids, and his wife Angela (Lili Taylor) is pregnant with twins. Their old, run down house is getting too small, and besides it is filled with mold which is wrecking havoc on Angela’s asthma. He is part of a drug task force, who does raids on dealers, and Sal has crossed the line from simply arresting them, to killing them and taking their money. He has a week to get the money for a down payment on his new house together, and needs a big score soon. Finally, there is Tango (Don Cheadle), who has been working undercover in a major drug ring for a few years now. He is tired, and is losing the life he knew before the undercover work, and is starting to cross the line – as he relates more to the criminals than to the cops. He wants out. They tell he can get out, after one last operation. They want to arrest Caz (Wesley Snipes), who has just got out of jail on a technicality, and has gone back to running his drug business. But Tango is unsure – Caz once saved his life, and he doesn’t want to be the one who sends him back to jail – this time probably for the rest of his life.

Fuqua and his writer, Michael C. Martin, do a wonderful job of weaving these three separate story threads together. The best thing I can say about the movie is that all three stories are equally interesting – there is not a weak link, as is often the case with movies like this, where we long to get back to one story over the others. They are aided greatly by the performances. Cheadle delivers one of his strongest performances as Tango, the cop who no longer knows what side he is on. Throughout the movie, he hangs on by a thread, and threatens to go over the edge at any given minute. Snipes has not been this good in years – perhaps as far back as the aforementioned New Jack City. He is actually acting here, and it’s great to have him back. I think Hawke may be a little miscast as Sal, but he brings a gritty intensity to the role nonetheless. Gere is usually the blandest of actor – someone who seems to fade into his surroundings. But he is strong here as a man who simply wants to move on with the rest of his life. His story stands at a stark contrast to the other two – as Tango and Sal are losing their moral center, Eddie is just finding his. They are aided by excellent supporting work by Brian F. O’Bryne, Vincent D’Onofrio, Michael K. Williams along with Taylor and Kane. Will Patton doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing in this movie however – something that would stick out more if most of his scenes were not opposite Ellen Barkin who is truly god awful in the film.

Brooklyn’s Finest doesn’t really do anything new with the genre. It is heavily reliant on clichĂ©s, and if like me, you lived on these types of crime films for years, you are likely to see every plot twist and turn coming a mile off. But there is something to be said for making a solid example of your chosen genre as well, and that is what Brooklyn’s Finest does. It may not be a masterpiece, but for people like me who are fans of the genre – and want to hear the word “motherfucker” spouted roughly 100 times in under two hours, then Brooklyn’s Finest gets the job done.

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