Gleefully if pointlessly violent, the facetiously titled “Brooklyn’s Finest” ensnares a first-rate cast in a dramatic dragnet for a fugitive moral lesson about street-weary policemen — whose fates may leave auds not just befuddled, but ticked off. The performances are uniformly good, but “Training Day” helmer Antoine Fuqua seems to lack the maturity as a filmmaker to match his casting or his budget. Senator and Sony, who bought the pic’s rights, are hoping the stars will attract crowds, but the film’s relentlessly bleak vision is tough to love. The filmmakers reportedly have already decided to excise ending, which drew gasps and laughs at the drama’s Sundance premiere.
Not that “Brooklyn’s Finest” is drab or visually lazy. It is, however, a narrative muddle. Three main characters are introduced: First, Eddie (Richard Gere) wakes up in the morning and puts a gun barrel in his mouth, rehearsing for suicide. Second, Sal (Ethan Hawke) — after chatting amiably in a car with what we assume is a fellow gangster (Vincent D’Onofrio) — shoots the guy in the face and robs him of a bag of cash. And third, a very slick, very dangerous Tango (Don Cheadle) is cruising Brownsville, clearly at ease with thug life, orchestrating the running of big bags of coke. But all three are actually cops, serving at various levels of the NYPD hierarchy. And all three are poster boys for the corrupting influence of easy money, no respect and a vision of the future that’s begging them to sell out.
The three are ships in the night: Sal, the tactical drug-raid cop, doesn’t know the supposed drug dealer Tango; Tango wouldn’t know Eddie, who is about to retire after 22 years as a patrolman. They remain oblivious to each other’s existence — although Fuqua does have them bump into each other unknowingly, upping the apprehension about what we know is going to happen: The three will converge, and it’s going to be ugly. How ugly, one can’t quite anticipate. But it’s the easy, facile aspects of the script (by Michael C. Martin and Brad Caleb Kane) that are more surprising than anything else.
“Brooklyn’s Finest” manages to elicit sympathy for three characters who, on the surface at least, are insects: Sal is itching to rip off some big-time drug op, but only because he lives in a house riddled with mold that’s killing his asthmatic wife (Lili Taylor), who’s also having twins. Eddie has been on the street so long he no longer cares about much of anything, especially the people he’s sworn to protect. But within him is a reservoir of decency that Gere hints at deftly.
Tango is on the fast track to a promotion, but to get it, he needs to lure Caz (Wesley Snipes), the man who saved his life in prison, back into a life of crime. (Ellen Barkin, as the higher-up orchestrating the sting, is vicious and brilliant.) The pic isn’t exactly Greek tragedy, but you can see that’s where it would like to be heading.
Instead, it’s more like “Hamlet” — the ending, at least, with enough blood and corpses to fill a housing project. The only thing missing is a point, which Fuqua circles for two hours without landing.
Production values are good, although the real-life East Brooklyn locales occasionally receive more enhancement than they need.