Running time 140 minutes
Written by Michael C. Martin
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes
2.5 Eyeballs out of 4
The opening scene of Brooklyn’s Finest features a conversation between a maybe crooked cop and a definitely crooked career criminal about the concept of right and wrong. Or rather, in their words, the degrees to which one can be both right-er and wrong-er. That scene closes with a literal bang (along with the first-but-not-close-to-last shocking moment of violence), and for the next two plus hours, we’re immersed in a rather grim world where indeed that line between good guy and bad is not just hard to see, but pretty much nonexistent.
In short order, we meet three cops. All work in the same dangerous Brooklyn precinct, and all are caught up in some sort of simmering state of crisis. Ethan Hawke is family man Sal, with more kids than he knows what to do with and a pregnant-with-twins wife (hi, Lili Taylor!). He wants to move out of his tiny house (an inordinate amount of time is spent talking about the effects of wood mold) but doesn’t have enough money. Then there’s Tango, played by Don Cheadle, who has been undercover for so long he is beginning to forget who he is and which side he is on. Richard Gere plays Eddie, a sad sack who is one week away from retirement, and wakes up every morning to take a shot of alcohol and put an empty revolver in his mouth to practice pulling the trigger. Good times! In case you hadn’t already guessed, this movie makes pretty clear from the start that there won’t be a lot of warm-and-fuzzy feelings. Instead, you will be nervously fidgeting and wondering just how hellaciously this sucker is going to end.
Antoine Fuqua is a master of this kind of anxiety—much like his acclaimed Training Day, there are moments so nerve-racking one is actually afraid to look directly at the screen (or, as one woman at the screening I attended said after the film ended, “I think I just had five heart attacks”). However, there are some distracting moments of heavy-handedness (do we ever really need to see Mr. Hawke go all Lady Macbeth and try to scrub his hands free of blood?). Mr. Hawke, so baby-faced circa Dead Poets Society, has been completely transformed by age and is completely believable as the tormented Sal. Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes both turn in fine, nuanced performances, and look for Ellen Barkin to try and pretty much succeed in stealing all the scenes she shows up in. But Mr. Gere is miscast as Eddie, too naturally regal in bearing to be the screw-up he’s supposed to be, and for a broken man, he still moves with the same confidence as his younger self did in An Officer and a Gentleman. But along with these occasional moments of clunkiness are excellently executed scenes of real tension. And for those of us who might be deluded into thinking the entire borough looks like Park Slope, it’s a reminder about some of the less savory things going on in Brooklyn besides the overpopulation of Bugaboos.