I moved to Brooklyn almost three years ago, and since then, I've discovered that there are really two Brooklyns. There's one populated largely by hipsters and yuppies (like, well, me) who love things like community gardens, obscure films, expensive beer, and espresso. The other is a lot like a Spike Lee movie or The Wire (only not in Baltimore): full of people who grew up in Brooklyn, in a long line of Brooklynites, whose street sense is unparalleled and whose lives are governed by a very specific honor code most of us will never experience.
This second Brooklyn is the world of Brooklyn's Finest—the Van Dyke housing projects in the sixty-fifth precinct, in the notoriously rough Brownsville section (home neighborhood of Mike Tyson, among others). The film winds together the stories of three policemen as they struggle with the sometimes fine line between right and wrong.
Eddie (Richard Gere) is a week from retirement after twenty-two years of less-than-exemplary service to the force when he's assigned to oversee rookies in the tough neighborhoods. His life in shambles, Eddie is barely hanging on, swilling whiskey in the morning to get out of bed. His only friend is the prostitute he frequents. Without anything to live for, the end of his rope is well within sight.
Tango (Don Cheadle) is an undercover cop working the drug beat. But he tires of the kind of attention that a black man in a black car attracts, and he's been begging for a promotion and a desk job for years. He's finally offered a way out. But is it worth taking if it means betraying a close friend—even if that friend is a known criminal?
Sal (Ethan Hawke), desperate for money to feed and house his rapidly growing family, has started eyeing the money left on the table during drug raids. Deeply religious, he finds that he's in the bad place of trying to reconcile his misdeeds with his needs. "I don't want God's forgiveness," he tells his priest at confession. "I want his [expletive] help." Yet the mold in the walls of his home is making his wife (Lili Taylor) ill and endangering the life of his unborn twins. And the down payment on his coveted new house is past due.
Director Antoine Fuqua cut his cop-movie teeth on Training Day (for which Hawke was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), a terse thriller that centers on a single day on the streets and the line between upright and dirty. Brooklyn's Finest seems a natural fit for Fuqua's talents.
Shot on location in the projects and the precinct, there's no doubt that this story is not far from the truth for many members of the police force. It's not exactly a thankless job, but as Eddie points out, it simply takes the life out of you.
This cast is undeniably great, peppered with seasoned actors who can spit out Brooklyn street-speak, the poetics of which rival British Cockney dialect in their knack for profanity-laced metaphor. Intense, fast-moving scenes spill over one another, creating a fever pitch of desperation in the characters and the audience.
Yet for its strengths, Brooklyn's Finest has weaknesses that keep it from being great. It's simply not as tight as a three-pronged narrative needs to be to keep its audience engaged and following along. Every rough inner-city cop drama from now on will be measured against the brilliance of HBO's series The Wire, which had the luxury of weaving together many stories across five seasons of hour-long episodes.
But this is much tougher to pull off in a two-hour film. Thankfully, the connection between the three cops is not overextended. But with the tricky narrative, coupled with some strange cinematographic choices, a few situations that border on manipulative in their hopelessness, and an ending that seems to just peter out from sheer exhaustion, Brooklyn's Finest is not quite there.
Of course, the graphic nature of life on the streets (whether you're in the patrol car or watching it go by) is enough to keep many away. No punches are pulled here. And whether or not characters get what they deserve is up for grabs.
Brooklyn's Finest is about the high cost of taking your life back—especially when you've been spending it in the service of something as noble as protecting the public. It's about what you do when you have nowhere to go. And it's about the messy possibility of redemption. Some find it, some don't, and some are still looking for it as the credits begin to roll.Discussion starters
- By the end of the movie, do you think Eddie has had a change of heart? Where do you suppose he goes from here?
- Tango is grappling with loyalty to the force, on one hand, and loyalty to a friend, on the other. In his position, what would you choose to do?
- What do you make of Sal's dilemma? Is his priest correct in his assessment of Sal's need for forgiveness? What about Sal's plea for help, more than for forgiveness?
- Have you ever found yourself in a grave moral quandary, where you honestly did not know what the right choice might be? What did you do, and how did you decide?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Brooklyn's Finest is rated R for bloody violence throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content and pervasive language. It's about cops and criminals and crime, and it is not pretty. Lots of gunshots, lots of blood. There are many shots of nude women—including a graphic sex scene with a prostitute, naked workers in a drug house, dancers in a strip club, and several sex slaves. One character sniffs cocaine. Every scene is realistically laced with profanities.
Photos © Overture.
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