Nine years after he guided Denzel Washington to the Oscar for his riveting portrayal of a corrupt Los Angeles cop in Training Day, director Antoine Fuqua ventures onto the mean, crime-riddled streets of New York. With a dispassionate eye, he once again goes on patrol with the men and women who proudly promise to uphold the law then occasionally bend it beyond recognition. Screenwriter Michael C Martin, who co-wrote the television series Sleeper Cell, treats his morally conflicted characters with an even hand, showing how their moral compasses become misaligned in a world of unremitting violence.
A man’s gotta do…
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a narcotics officer who is desperate to move house so that his pregnant wife Angela (Lili Taylor) doesn’t have to keep breathing in the mould which is aggravating her asthma. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have all of the money for a down payment on a new house and time is running out to secure the house of his family’s dreams. For these public servants, the end usually justifies the means and justice turns a blind eye to the myriad abuses of power – so long as the guilty end up behind bars or on a cold metal tray in the morgue. The characters’ frustrations come through loud and clear – they have no choice.
Eddie (Richard Gere) has been a cop for more than 20 years and he is in his final week before retirement. Disenchanted with the job, he begrudgingly agrees to mentor a rookie cop, Quinlan (Jesse Williams), for his final seven days, revealing how emotionally scarred he has become by working the streets. “Don’t you want to do something useful with your last two minutes on the job?” asks his lieutenant. “Not really,” replies Eddie. Meanwhile, undercover cop Tango (Don Cheadle) has sacrificed everything to get close to kingpin Caz (Wesley Snipes) and his drugs network, even serving time behind bars to prove his bad boy credentials. Understandably, Tango wants to be reassigned but his lieutenant, Hobarts (Will Patton), needs him to betray one of the people closest to him. “You do this, you got Detective first grade,” promises Hobarts. The fates of the three men with badges entwine, culminating in a night of betrayal and bloodshed.
Losing the plot
Brooklyn’s Finest draws strong performances from Hawke, Gere and Cheadle, each of whom faces a crisis of conscience and must pay the penalty for his actions. Screenwriter Martin builds up the characters gradually, unfortunately undermining his good work by tying together the plot threads with a series of contrivances and coincidences that are hard to swallow. Fuqua punctuates the action with explosions of graphic violence, painting New York a deep shade of red by the time the end credits roll. Good men fall, bad men survive, and nothing really changes. It’s a fun enough way to spend a couple of spare hours, but we’re not convinced that this is the finest this team have to offer.