These Cops Come Up Short
Friday, March 5, 2010
When a film is this bad and it has a name like “Brooklyn’s Finest” (opening March 6 throughout San Diego) it’s just asking for a snarky headline from critics. But I will resist – only because my fellow critics beat me to the best ones.
The title “Brooklyn’s Finest” was meant to be ironic. But ironic in the sense that the cops depicted in the film are anything but the finest. But the unintended irony is that the film fails as miserably as the cops do in living up to that title. Director Antoine Fuqua grabbed attention by directing Hong Kong star Chow Yun Fat in his first Hollywood action film, “The Replacement Killers.” Then he scored well by letting Denzel Washington turn to the dark side in “Training Day.” “Brooklyn’s Finest” is a little like “Training Day” times three as we follow three flawed cops. But while “Training Day” was a grim, focused portrait of one corrupt cop with a complex performance by Washington, “Brooklyn’s Finest” ends up dealing with each of its three tales superficially and formulaically.
The three cops are – as Warren Beatty said in “Mickey One” – all “guilty of not being innocent.” Eddie (Richard Gere) is a burnout case just days away from retirement. His sin is one of omission – he simply doesn’t care and therefore chooses not to do participate in the world around him even if that means ignoring something that's wrong. Tango (Don Cheadle) is burned out as well but he’s guilty of ambition and choosing a grueling undercover assignment that has cost him his marriage and blurred the line between what’s right and what’s wrong. Then there’s Sal (Ethan Hawke) whose growing family and a moldy house place extreme pressure on him to find new -- not always legal -- ways to make money.
The feeling I get is that Fuqua figured his cop gone bad formula worked so well in “Training Day” that if he multiplied it by three and imitated the “Crash” multi-stranded format, he’d have a hit. But alas no. What he gets is a trio of very similar tales told in the most mundane and clichéd manner. Because the stories and characters are thinly drawn we end up with trite motivation for each character’s behavior and not enough time with any one to develop much empathy or attachment. Each subplot has to be drawn in swift strokes since each story only gets a third of the screen time, so every scene is pitched with ominous intent. So when Eddie looks at a missing person poster we know that young women in the picture is going to play an important role in the story and when Sal mentions mold in his house we know that’s going to come up again in a dramatic way. What this means is that it’s easy to predict where each story is going to go and how it will all end. This also requires some annoying plot manipulation in order to get the characters to literally cross paths and bump into each other so that the proper sense of tragic irony is reached by the final frames. The film's "subtlety" is summed up in a scene in which Sal is talking to his priest in a confessional and he says he doesn't want God's forgiveness, just his help. That's the way Fuqua and company deliver their messages and shade their characters.
The actors are competent enough but they seem as weary as their characters are as they hit their required emotional marks. Of the leads, Cheadle comes off the best and most convincing. Hawke overacts while Gere simmers and blinks a lot. Hawke has a nice opening bit that's designed to "surprise" us and establish the film's bleak perspective but after that the film does little except disappoint. The intercutting between the three plots doesn't even provide enough movement and pace to keep your interest up.
There is one moment of excitement, though, when Don Cheadle’s undercover cop almost has a fistfight with Ellen Barkin’s smarmy police captain. Now that could have been fun. I also have to give the film credit for the most creative and unusual weapon so far this year: a zip tie. In a brutal fight, a large zip tie is used to strangle someone. Hope that’s not a plot spoiler but I wanted to commend that little piece of innovation.
“Brooklyn’s Finest” (rated R for bloody violence throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content and pervasive language) is a dreary, grim portrait of police life. The characters find little redemption, and the film offers no redeeming qualities whatsoever… oh except for that zip tie trick. Go rent "Training Day" instead of shelling out good money for this.
Companion viewing: “Training Day,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Serpico”