Brooklyn’s Finest: Fuqua’s Policier, Starring Richard Gere

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As a crime-policier, “Brooklyn’s Finest,” a follow-up to Antoine Fuqua’s superlative “Training Day,” which deservedly won Denzel Washington the 2001 Best Actor Oscar, is inferior in every way, dramatically, narratively, and especially acting-wise.
Overture Films will release the movie on March 5.
Stepping into the familiar cinematic territory of Sidney Lumet and his great 1970s policiers (“Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Prince of the City”) and other directors (not to mention TV cop shows), “Brooklyn’s Finest” centers on one chaotic week in the work and lives of three conflicted New York City police officers. During that intense, turbulent time, the three are forced to dramatically transform their value system, philosophy of life, and approach to work as a result of their involvement in a massive drug operation.
On paper, the male ensemble sounds terrific—until you see the film. Richard Gere, playing a major role, is miscast; he simply lacks the depth and gravitas that actors like Viggo Mortensen or Ed Harris would have brought to the part.
Moreover, there is no chemistry among the other men, the always reliable Don Cheadle (“Hotel Rwanda,” “Crash”), Ethan Hawke, who received a Supporting Actor nomination for Fuqua’s “Training Day”) and Wesley Snipes, who I have not seen on screen for years and is very much welcomed here.
The supporting troupe includes such pro character thespians as Will Patton, Lili Taylor, Brian F. O’Byrne, Shannon Kane, Ellen Barkin, and others.
Neophyte scripter Michael C. Martin was inspired by an actual event. A New York City transit worker, one day he needed a new ride when his old one was totaled in an accident. Sidelined by injuries he suffered in the crash, Martin was breaking his head to come up with an idea to raise the cash he needed when he was told about a screenwriting contest online with a $10,000 first prize. Although he had never written a film script before, Martin thought the contest might be his ticket to a new automobile, and it was. You only wish the scenario was more sharply written and the plot more carefully worked out.
Richard Gere plays the burned out vet, Eddie Dugan, who is just one week away from his pension and a alternate, desirable lifestyle that would include a fishing cabin in Connecticut. He is contrasted with another white cop, narcotics officer Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) who is more than “willing” to cross the in order to provide a better life for his long-suffering wife and family; he has 7 kids.
The third protag is Clarence “Tango” Butler (Don Cheadle), who has been undercover for so long that his loyalties have started to shift from his fellow police officers to his prison buddy Caz (Wesley Snipes), one of Brooklyn’s most infamous drug dealers.
So far so good, but then the plot kicks in heavily and it’s all deja vu. Under growing professional, emotional, and personal pressures, each of the trio faces daily tests of judgment, character, morality and honor, doing what’s an admittedly a difficult, demanding, life-risking job.
Turning point occurs when the NYPD’s Operation Clean Up targets the notoriously drug-ridden BK housing project, and all three officers find themselves transformed by the violence and corruption of Brooklyn’s gritty 65th Precinct and its notoriously treacherous criminals. During seven fateful days, Eddie, Sal and Tango are hurtling inextricably toward the same fatal crime scene and what could be described as traumatic collision with fate.
In moments, “Brooklyn’s Finest” succeeds in capturing the volatile, deadly world of one of New York’s most dangerous precincts through the eyes of the men pledged to protect and serve, as they face some wrenching, life-changing choices. But most of what we see has been depicted before by other directors, in a more interesting way, including Curtis Hanson’s 1997 Oscar-winner “L.A. Confidential,” which was a period piece but dealt with similar issues.
Good production values make the film more watchable and enjoyable than it has the right to be. Mexican lenser Patrick Murguia (“Fuera del cielo”) is responsible for sharp imagery and visual tension, with contributions from accomplished editor Barbara Tulliver (“Lady in the Water”). Best of all is the work of the endlessly creative production designer Thérèse DePrez.