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It is tough to be a cop in any of America’s hardened inner cities. The cycle of violence, corruption and despair repeats over and over until many, we have been told, feel as though they have been handed a badge and a thimble and told to go empty the ocean.
The cynicism and burn-out are just a matter of time — and once the decay sets in, the lines between right and wrong start to blur. Countless films and television shows are devoted to this well-worn subject, and the sheer volume of material has made the filmmaker’s job tough, as “Brooklyn’s Finest,” the latest addition, demonstrates. To depict the gray areas of urban policing without settling into the rote and cliché is a monumental task.
The movie follows a week in the lives of three cops who work in Brooklyn’s most dangerous precinct. The detached Eddie (Richard Gere) is just barely hanging on until his retirement, crossing off the last days on a calendar in his locker. His wife has left him and solace comes in the forms of whisky, Russian roulette and the company of a sympathetic Chinatown hooker.
Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a member of a tactical team that busts drug houses in the projects. The mold in his decaying house, which is already too small for his family, is sickening his wife (Lili Taylor) and her unborn twins. The piles of cash he confiscates every day just sit and rot in some evidence room or, worse, go to furnish mahogany desks for the city’s power brokers, while he risks his life to barely make ends meet.
Tango (Don Cheadle) is an undercover cop about to crack. His wife, too, has left him. All he wants is to make grade and get his desk and detective rank, but the suits who control the operation keep jerking him around.
In a word, “Brooklyn’s Finest” offers nothing new to the addled-cop genre.
Director Antoine Fuqua’s “Training Day” is one of the genre’s more celebrated films – Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Oscar in 2001 for his lead performance. Nine years later, however, the well is nearly dry. The most damning evidence is the film’s conclusion, in which the three cops careen toward the same block in a moment of violent serendipity that has little emotional effect. I is just hard to care about the fate of yet another undercover cop who wants out.
The stale material is buoyed somewhat by an excellent, star-studded cast that includes Wesley Snipes, who has re-emerged after years of fighting the IRS. Three character actors from “The Wire” also appear, and their casting has the unintended consequence of highlighting perhaps the film’s most glaring problem: It is not “The Wire.”
That venerable HBO series captured the subject of a suffocating urban America better than most everything else committed to film on the subject. It took “The Wire” five seasons and 60 episodes. “Brooklyn’s Finest” is 132 minutes in length. With so little time for such a complex subject, it is nearly impossible to prevent the cop with whisky breath from becoming a ho-hum cliché. And after “The Wire,” it is a wonder that anyone still tries.
2hrs 12min. Rated R for extreme violence, language and nudity.
My rating is “DVD”: Rent this movie at your leisure.