Does the sensation of déjà vu ever come over you as a movie unfolds? It's a creeping-up-on-you sort of feeling that makes a film seem like a copy of something already seen.
The story and cops in Brooklyn's Finest fit firmly into that déjà vu category. While workmanlike and solidly made in many aspects, Brooklyn's Finest cannot shake loose from the paralyzing quality that it's something we've seen on the block too many times.
The film's story centers around three Brooklyn cops: Eddie (Richard Gere), Tango (Don Cheadle) and Sal (Ethan Hawke). The cops don't work together, but all three are drowning in various forms of desperation. These men are not happy with their lives, or jobs, and it's causing them to take dangerous risks. How bad is it for them?
Eddie wakes up to a shot of booze and puts a gun with an empty chamber in his mouth. Not a good way to start the morning.
Eddie is beyond burned out and is literally counting the seven days off his locker calendar until his retirement. He spends his nights pining over a prostitute and his last days on the job playing mentor to wet-behind-the-ears rookies who are disappointed in his lack of fire for proper police work. You know, bustin' heads and making arrests. Eddie just wants to be done with everything police-related.
Tango is buried so deep in an undercover sting that he's starting to lose his footing and become lost from himself. The person he used to be is rapidly disappearing. His wife has filed for divorce, his supervisor strings him along -- dangling a detective shield in front of him -- and he's becoming more entangled in the criminal world. If Tango doesn't get the desk and suit he craves, he might not make it out.
Sal is becoming completely unhinged as he is tries to get enough money to move his family out of a mold-encrusted house that is sending his pregnant with twins' wife to the hospital. Houses aren't cheap and cops don't make a lot of money, so Sal is having to make alternative plans to come up with the cash. The theft of drug money and murder are leading contenders for Sal's rapid investment scheme.
These are the three protagonists in Brooklyn's Finest. At some point, they lost the thread between right and wrong, good and bad. Maybe they never even had the thread to begin with. All we see and know are these men walking the blurry, thin blue line of being a cop -- where good, bad, right and wrong are all malleable concepts that depend on the myriad of other factors that impact their duties as policemen.
Real life affects the job, and the job affects real life. It's a nasty circle some cops lead.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), Brooklyn's Finest is steeped in the lore of previous films about cops in New York City. It's got the tone, the style, the attitude and the adrenaline of films by Sidney Lumet.
At times, it feels like an extremely abridged, and inferior, version of HBO's The Wire (Michael Kenneth Williams, who played the beloved character Omar, is among the cast). That's the problem with Brooklyn's Finest: It never feels fresh, original or new. We've seen this all before.
Lumet's no-nonsense films about flawed men grappling with their consciouses as cops are the obvious influence on Brooklyn's Finest. I'm pretty sure Fuqua (and screenwriter Michael C. Martin) watched some Lumet movies and took copious crib notes for the film.
Lumet did it much better with movies such as Serpico (1973), Prince of the City (1981) and Q & A (1990). The ideas of loyalties between cops, crooks and the mixing of the two worlds with clipped, terse dialogue dates much further back than Lumet, though. Many of these elements were present in the noir crime films of the post-World War II era.
Fuqua has waded into the world of corrupt cops before with 2001's Training Day, a much more successful picture than Brooklyn's Finest. The two films share similarities -- shady cops, rookies, the fuzzy line between right and wrong. What made Training Day a better film was that its story centered around two characters -- a rogue detective played by Denzel Washington and the rookie (Hawke). It wasn't an ensemble cast with a convoluted, loosely linked story as happens in Brooklyn's Finest. Having centralized characters to focus on, Training Day was a much more intimate look into Los Angeles policemen's raw, dangerous way of life.
Brooklyn's Finest also suffers from being a little too over earnest. There's never a let up. Not once. The feeling of being weighed down by the gravity of the story becomes a hindrance rather than something that propels it forward. When the end comes, we aren't filled with satisfaction but relief. A film that causes that reaction isn't as powerful as it thought or hoped it would be.
It's a shame as the cast in Brooklyn's Finest were game and up to the task. Cheadle, Hawke, Lili Taylor, Will Patton, Ellen Barkin, Williams, Wesley Snipes, Vincent D'Onofrio (not Gere though) are all performers who can handle this kind of material with aplomb. I can see their attraction to the roles, as they are meaty and flashy, but Martin's script is too one-dimensional and cobbled together to create something cohesive that comes together in the end.
Brooklyn's Finest isn't terrible; it just suffers from something equally as damning: A predictable story, achingly familiar, redundant and uninteresting. All the major elements of director Antoine Fuqua's film about cops consumed by greed, regaining their life and redemption have been in movies done before. And done much better.
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