Going into Brooklyn's Finest I didn't expect something special, but I came out somewhat amazed at how bland it really was. It's a lame attempt at combining Training Day and Crash that comes off like a mediocre television crime drama.
Finest begins with an ominous black car silhouetted in front of a New York cityscape, as Vincent D'Onofrio delivers a foreboding monologue about what's "righter and wronger" in the fight between cops and lawbreakers. We lose his character quickly, but then a trio of stories begins. We get Dugan (Richard Gere), a drunken suicidal "doesn't-give-a-shit" loser cop with seven days left before retirement and Sal (Ethan Hawke), a Catholic-guilt-ridden, crooked, sociopathic narcotics cop ready to kill and swindle money for the good of his pregnant wife and growing family. Then there's Tango (Don Cheadle), a conflicted undercover cop deep into the drug scene, dealing with the dilemma of busting his long-lost pal Caz (Wesley Snipes) who once saved his life. Tango and Caz... get it? Other stereotypical characters are Will Patton as the grizzled nice guy detective and Ellen Barkin, resembling a cornered bulldog, doing her tough-mama-agent routine.
Brooklyn's slow-paced bleakness comes off like Scarface on Quaaludes. Amidst an obvious Mean Streets set up that never really attaches itself to the overall flow, the bullet-hailing eruptions only seem to bend backwards on the storyline and fall flat. Languishing in cliché city, the dichotomies run rampant as bad writing mixes with inventive street lingo.
The pathos and righteousness is ladled on so thick that it begins to stagnate and when all these characters finally intersect, it's too late to care. In an ensemble movie we're supposed to feel empathy or sympathy with most of the prominent characters. Here, we're numb to people who deserve everything they get because, at heart, they're all despicable. Brooklyn's Finest needed to raise the stakes by making this a more engaging feature with sympathetic, yet flawed, characters, but this is just another case of watching reprehensible guys squirm. Wesley Snipes garners the most sympathy and he's a gangland drug lord... Go figure.
The actors give what they might consider Oscar worthy performances, but what we see is heavy handed emoting. By way of contrast, in Training Day director Antoine Fuqua had Denzel smacking you upside the head with his over-the-top performance as Alonzo, a corrupt and sadistic L.A. narcotics. Here we only get glimmers of that kind of bravura as the three leads slow burn their way into self inflicted sorrow, deep guilt, suffering and eventually tantrums. Snipes' phoned-in performance after a six-year screen absence is a let down.
I can just see first-time scriptwriter Michael C. Martin, who grew up in the Brooklyn projects saying, "And then they will all meet in a hail of bullets in the projects and justice will be dispensed." But sadly it just feels pushed, contrived and washed out. Face it, from Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant to Hill Street Blues we've seen all this before. While Brooklyn's is supposed to be gritty and heavy, it's just another example of making a mess of things with no one to clean it up. This vapid melodrama lacks the intensity it strives for. While the audience is force fed the notion that everyone is justified by taking crime or the law into their own hands, well, that's just "wronger." Fuqua develops a sufficiently sleazy atmosphere and propels some momentum during the final half-hour, but it takes far too long to get there. But after wading through the muck of mediocrity, it doesn't seem worth the wait.
Starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes. Directed by Antoine Fuqua