This is the world we live in: any time you make a movie about morally conflicted cops battling charismatic drug dealers on violent city streets, you're going to draw comparisons to The Wire -- and almost inevitably, your movie will come up short. At times, Brooklyn's Finest is gleefully derivative, like the best of director Antoine Fuqua's work, but most of the time it just seems to be going through the melodramatic motions. It's a wonderfully stacked cast -- including three "Wire" regulars, Hassan Johnson, Michael K. Williams, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. -- but it's ultimately just nothing more than an okay cop movie.
It has larger ambitions which it simply can't live up to. The first-time screenwriter, Michael C. Martin, described the compelling central kernel of the movie: "Police officers trying to do the right thing, but being told they are better off doing the wrong thing." To tell the story, Crash-like, the movie establishes several non-intersecting storylines: Ethan Hawke's cash-strapped would-be corrupt cop, Richard Gere's washed-up about-to-retire cop, and Don Cheadle's stressed undercover cop. Though the role was written for him, Hawke's story is the weakest, as it usually is: he simply isn't a very good actor, and when he tries to play moral conflict it simply comes off petulant, as in an embarrassing scene when he yells at a priest in a confessional, "I don't want God's forgiveness... I WANT HIS HELP!"
The plot is piecemeal. Hawke needs money to buy a new house for his expanding Irish Catholic family, and he's more than willing to steal good money from bad people to do it. Gere is an old drunk a few days from retirement who would kill himself if he weren't too much of a coward; his closest human relationship is with his hooker. Cheadle is an undercover cop who's gotten in too deep, feels closer to gangster target Wesley Snipes than to his pencil-pushing police superiors, and fears that he's losing himself. The police department is conducting a series of drug raids, but casual and sometimes accidental brutality leads to a lot of messes they have to cover up. All the cops aren't necessarily bad -- this isn't Armored -- but they're rarely sympathetic.
Fuqua's tone is, as always, lurid rather than respectful, but bombastic composer Marcelo Zarvos is incapable of winking, and cinematographer Patrick Murguia is no more than competent. They fail to complement the action, instead frequently jarring it, and high-pitched performances from Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes are over the top without much payoff. When Wesley Snipes played druglord Nino Brown in New Jack City (73), he enjoyed the hell out of being evil; here, he's just trying to prove that he can still act with the big boys. A better crew might have elevated the material to entertaining camp -- as with Fuqua's best movie, Training Day (rating: 73). Instead, it's just stuck in between.
Crossposted on Remingtonstein.