Director Antoine Fuqua returns to the gritty cop drama genre that made him a household name in 2001 with Training Day. This time around, East Brooklyn’s 65th precinct is home to three police officers whose ethical compasses are way off—in ways we’ve all seen before. By tackling cop drama conventions head-on, screenwriter Michael C. Martin puts a fine point on the chronic temptations and struggles that urban cops face. Fuqua massages the script’s obvious clichés with a sense of personal attachment to his characters that makes you believe in them. The extraordinary demands on underpaid cops, this film seems to say, is the same no matter what big city they work in. There’s nothing simple or pretty about any of it. It’s still a lot closer to the truth, and more entertaining, than any episode of Law and Order.
Richard Gere plays Eddie Dugan, a burned-out, lonely cop lost on the other side of the spectrum that Travis occupied in Taxi Driver. He frequents the same prostitute that his police peers visit, and doesn’t mind waiting in the hallway for his turn at a woman who represents the only kind of love he can imagine. Dugan even tries to woo her away with a knuckleheaded retirement fantasy that is probably the only dream that keeps him hanging on. To work so hard, for so long, at a thanklessly underpaid job that has robbed his soul, Dugan has held up remarkably well. But there won’t be a bright side even after he’s unceremoniously released from active duty.
Like any good family man, officer Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) wants the best for his ailing pregnant wife (Lili Taylor) and their five kids. But they are cash-strapped and their home is under attack from toxic mold. Naturally, stealing money from drug busts seems like the way out of his predicament.
Undercover drug agent Tango (Don Cheadle) has been “under” for so long that he barely knows which side he’s on anymore. A helpless pawn in the department’s game, Tango carries around a compressed energy that threatens to explode without warning. His bosses bait him along with the promise of a desk job, but deep down he knows they’ll never give him the promotion he’s already earned four times over. Like Dugan, Tango is burned out. Because of the suppressive nature of his work, he’s had to compartmentalize his emotions and personality in an unnatural way.
Wesley Snipes makes a strong appearance as Caz, a drug lord and best friend to Tango. Caz’s decision to get out of the business before it gets him can’t come soon enough.
Brooklyn’s Finest doesn’t pretend to sugarcoat anything. Just as easily as the film can be viewed as a retread of every other cop drama, it can be seen as part of an ongoing effort from filmmakers demanding changes in a public system that doesn’t work. American citizens are beyond fed up with the way police departments handle crime in their cities. The cops who do the job for any period of time build up an incredible amount of resentment against their superiors and the citizens they’re entrusted to serve. From this perspective, Antoine Fuqua is doing his due diligence as a concerned citizen.
Rated R, 125 minutes, ★★★☆☆