sun 23/06/2024

Brooklyn's Finest | reviews, news & interviews

Brooklyn's Finest

Brooklyn's Finest

The clean streets of New York? Not on this film's watch

Long hard-bitten looks: Richard Gere plays a suicidal alcoholic cop in 'Brooklyn's Finest'

For the past decade or so, New York City has been bragging about its crime figures. Homicides are through the floor, whole fleets of firepower-toting cops are out there hassling hustlers, and the mean streets have been swept pretty much clean. I don’t think the creators of Brooklyn’s Finest can have got the press release.

In their version of reality, the body count is off the chart as blood pumps, spurts and leaks from innumerable gunshot wounds, all of them faked up with a gleeful eye for detail. It reminds you of the end of The Duchess of Malfi, only it’s a gore bath all the way through.

The NYPD are involved in an endemic turf war, at least in this corner of the city. Finest, eh? Can I get a side order of diner-sized irony with that title? The cops patrolling the riddled streets of the 64th Precinct are moral relativists to a man, all inured to the locality's criminal ebb and flow - apart from the young green ones, that is, and they soon learn, sometimes the hardest way.

Brooklyn-06Among this cadre are three NYPD cops standing in particular relation to the law. Eddie, a seasoned old-stager played by Richard Gere, has long since stopped hoping to save the world. He’s got a week to keep out of harm’s way till he can hand back the badge, take his retirement cheque, pack his fishing rod and maybe make off with the hooker he thinks might leave the game for him.

Then there’s Sal, Ethan Hawke’s drug squad desperado (pictured above right), who badly craves a larger home for his growing brood of nice Catholic children, somewhere where the wall mould won’t attack his pregnant wife’s asthma and passing trains won't rattle the rotting timbers. To finance the impossible dream, he has consciencelessly taken to freelance waste disposal, a plot line which draws forth the film's most compelling performance. That leaves Don Cheadle’s undercover cop Tango, who is itching to come back from the other side, where he’s been languishing unpromoted among rap-deafened drug-pushing killers for years, and start a new life. His problem is that he’s gone so deep underground that his loyalties are dangerously compromised: his only exit strategy involves snitching on a drug lord (Wesley Snipes, pictured below with Cheadle) he owes his life to.

Brooklyns_Finest_3 The idea that the police provides a safe house for the odd rotten apple evokes comparisons with The Departed. But Brooklyn’s Finest posits a much messier, much less schematic state of affairs than the Boston police department portrayed by Scorsese. There are not many good apples here. Or as one man says at the start of the film, just before Hawke’s weaselly cop wastes him, there is no right or wrong, only righter and wronger. And that goes for the whole system, from the judge downwards.

It’s a quirk of the script – by first-time writer Michael Martin - that it segregates its three main characters, even when it lures them to the same climactic crime scene. If Gere is briefly on screen with both, he doesn’t actually speak to (or even see) either. Without ever meeting, the other two have a more symbiotic connection. So long as Cheadle keeps on snitching, Hawke is always first in line for the resulting narcotics raids in the hope he’ll get to the cash stash before his colleagues can impound it.

The lure of the film for some will be the return of Gere to the uniform of his greatest (if not his most famous) role. Internal Affairs repositioned a snake-hipped pin-up as an entirely credible sleazebag, and you kind of hoped for a bit of that slime to rub off here. But no, Eddie is a lonely divorced suicidal alcoholic, given to taking long hard-bitten looks in the mirror, despised by old colleagues and new, but he wouldn’t harm a flea. This man is so squeaky clean he’ll even wrestle with his conscience while being restoratively fellated.

Watch Siskel and Ebert reviewing Internal Affairs

If it weren’t for the sight of him back in blue, you’d have to query the casting of Gere. He’s surely done a bit too much karmic yoga and humanitarian peacenikery to convince as a man who has mashed his liver. Anywhere but in Hollywood, that kind of self-abuse tends to show up in the capillaries. More to the point, the plot doesn’t quite know what to do with him anyway. In the style of many a cop thriller, it thinks about setting him up with a younger partner, but one is dead by the second day and the next soon panics and shoots a shoplifter. We get the picture: you're not at the pictures any more. In the end, Eddie has already retired by the time he gets his slightly synthetic shot at redemption, an oddly tacked-on subplot involving trafficked young women. The point, presumably, is that you can only ever get any proper policing done once you’re off the force.

Gere2On the plus side, Brooklyn’s Finest may offer a punitively bleak vision of the war on drugs in which even the good cops can down the wrong guy, but nor does it force-feed you a cornball love story (the most glaring weakness of The Departed). Among the female supporting roles, Gere’s hooker (Shannon Kane, pictured right with Gere) will mutter all the right things but won’t finally walk away from a career faking orgasms on her back. And then there’s a cameo from Ellen Barkin, a big-shot detective with, predictably, the most sizeable cojones on the block. It’s good to see Barkin is still screwing up that mug and spitting tacks after all these years, but it also felt like she’d walked in off another movie.

One of the drawbacks of following stories in triplicate is that, when the going gets taut, director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t quite know which way to turn. Tension bleeds out of the finale like, er, blood. At the close, as ambulances arrive to ferry away the piles of corpses, the screen freezeframes on Gere’s face-to-lens gaze. There’s a moral as well as practical reason for that, but the movie feels as if it belongs at least as much to the Cheadle and even more to the livewire Hawke. In fact, it says everything about Brooklyn’s Finest that you root for its very sleaziest rat.

Watch the trailer for Brooklyn's Finest

Gere has surely done a bit too much karmic yoga and humanitarian peacenikery to convince as a man who has mashed his liver

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