Antoine Fuqua isn’t one of the world’s most extraordinary directors, but when he occupies the right place at the right time, and with the right cast, he can sometimes transcend exhausted material, as he did with the remarkable Training Day (2001). Written by Michael C. Martin, Brooklyn’s Finest is a bit too ripe and wordy, with careful, calculated talk filling in all the empty spaces. But Fuqua finds the much-needed breathing room with his handful of excellent actors and his vivid depiction of a grimy, realistic cityscape, including a plethora of concrete- and graffiti-covered slums.
The story focuses on three different cops. Eddie (Richard Gere) is a beat cop with just a few days left before retirement; he’s sort of a drunk, but the movie only shows him drinking a couple of times. Eddie gets assigned to drive around some young rookies and show them the ropes. Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a narcotics cop who is forever strapping on his vest and storming into slum buildings looking for drugs and dirty money. Sal has an indeterminate number of kids and more on the way, but his asthmatic wife (Lili Taylor) desperately needs to move out of their moldy house. And Clarence (Don Cheadle), aka “Tango,” works undercover, desperate to get back to his normal life. But he’s given one last job to do: rat out Caz (Wesley Snipes), who once saved his life.
Each actor registers a lifetime of pain and torment in his eyes, and each delivers the overcooked lines with fierce conviction, like a poetry slam. Newcomer Shannon Kane, who plays a prostitute (one of the movie’s typical female characters), delivers what could be a star-making performance, servicing Eddie with some surprising, even tender customer-relations skills. The characters’ emotional throughlines are even enough to cover up for some of the sketchier details, like the number of Sal’s kids, or Eddie’s supposed alcoholism, or just what the bitchy Agent Smith (Ellen Barkin) is doing in Brooklyn. Ultimately, the movie veers a bit close to Crash territory, but is thankfully a good deal more downbeat and loony. The point, perhaps, is that everyone eventually snaps, but some people snap for the right reasons.