Directed By Antoine Fuqua
Starring Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes.
Brooklyn’s Finest shouldn’t be any good. Teetering on a shaky groundwork of enough cop clichés and tired plotlines to fuel a Rainier Wolfcastle franchise, Antoine Fuqua’s film isn’t a film teeming with original ideas. It’s a testament to the sheer quality of the cast, then, that a handful of marvellous performances take what should be a hideous trainwreck and elevate it to a solid, involving crime drama.
The film charts the loosely intersecting tale of three cops caught up in (or contributing to) a corrupt and flawed police system during a politically tense week in the New York borough. Aging burn-out Eddie (Gere) is just trying to shuffle through his last week on the job without incident to cash his pension, undercover cop Tango (Cheadle) is left twisting as his loyalties fast become blurred after an extended length of time in the guise of drug-running gangster, while narc detective Sal (Hawke) is driven crooked in his desperation to provide for his family.
While Antoine Fuqua’s first foray into the gritty cops-and-crooks crime genre since Training Day is an entirely enjoyable one, peppered with rather tense action and astounding performances, it’s impossible not to wander through the film without being stabbed with the pointy end of a cliché. Richard Gere’s plot thread alone is rife with overblown stereotypes. Taking a leaf out of the Martin Riggs playbook, when we first meet Eddie, he’s downing liquor for breakfast and lamenting his circumstances with a gun in his mouth. The downbeat cop with a death wish was an overused, stock cop character trait long before Schwarzenegger’s boozy, suicidal turn in End of Days, but you know you’re off to a bad start as a writer if your character shares the defining characteristics of the lead in a lesser Arnie movie. It gets worse though: Gere’s character is a burn-out alcoholic cop on the verge of divorce, with one week left till retirement and partnered up with a hotshot rookie cop against his will. A quick utterance of “The chief’s shittin’ bricks!” or “I’m getting too old for this shit…” and it’d take that tiny step into full-blown self-parody.
The problems only deepen as Cheadle’s character arc begins to feel like Donnie Brasco 2: Ghetto Shenanigans, while half the cast of The Wire are trucked in, seemingly in an attempt to trick the viewer into blinking and forgetting for a moment that they’re not watching David Simon’s television masterpiece. The adherence to cliché extends to the cringe-worthy soundtrack choices too, with a drug trip scene scored to Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’, while Hawke’s character furiously strips a drug den in search of a hidden stash of cash to the tune of ‘Where’s My Money?’ by DJ Green Lantern.
Brooklyn’s Finest, though, is a lesson in the art of hanging a film on the shoulders of incredibly talented actors, as despite playing tired, predictable characters, the cast add an overwhelming abundance of gravitas, bringing a dose of freshness to scenes that should be painfully overworn. Hawke is phenomenal as Sal, putting the finishing touches on the edgy, volatile character he essayed in Brian Goodman’s What Doesn’t Kill You. He’s a simmering powder keg of desperation, and his utterly intense performance imbues each scene with a massive amount of tension, while adding ample layers to his character that aren’t especially evident in the script. Cheadle is naturally and effortlessly great, even if he is coasting, but it’s Wesley Snipes’ understated and rejuvenated turn as paroled drug kingpin Caz that’s the highlight of Tango’s story, and proof that Snipes excels as an actor when he isn’t coasting through action crap and dodging the taxman. Gere gets the short thrift, but even so, he brings a dash of dignity to an otherwise thankless role. Supporting characters are ably cast, too, with Vincent D’Onofrio fantastic in a tiny role, Ellen Barkin chewing scenery with entertaining gusto, while erstwhile Trey Atwood Logan Marshal Green adds a dose of much-needed energy opposite Gere’s sedate turn, playing the (first) idealistic young rookie dumped on his shoulders.
It’s a film whose very marrow is riddled with familiarity and cliché, but thankfully it has some muscle and meat on its bones in the form of an exceptional cast at the height of their game and a diverting, albeit predictable story. While it’s unfortunate that they’re not given better material to work with, Brookyln’s Finest is an entertaining and wonderfully acted crime drama, if a flawed and overly familiar one.
Brooklyn’s Finest is out in cinemas now.