Mark Reviews Movies


3 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Vincent D'Onofrio, Brian F. O'Byrne, Will Patton, Michael K. Williams, Lili Taylor, Shannon Kane, Ellen Barkin

MPAA Rating: R (for bloody violence throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content and pervasive language)

Running Time: 2:20

Release Date: 3/5/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 5, 2010

Right out of the gate, screenwriter Michael C. Martin establishes Brooklyn's Finest as a contemplation of moral choices. A thug sits in a car, parked outside a cemetery, discussing his most recent run-in with the law. He is on parole, and he was arrested for driving drunk. So intoxicated was he, that the charge against him would have amounted to a felony, ruining his parole and sending him right back to jail.

There's more to the story, though. While at a bar, a group of guys started to assault him, so he did what he thought was best in self-preservation: He drove away from the scene. The judge dropped the charges, based on the fact that the parolee had to drive away from the bar to save his own life.

It was not a case of right and wrong, the judge argued, but of "righter" and "wronger."  The man was wrong to drive under the influence, and the police were right to arrest him for such. However, the man was "righter" to save his own life, and the police were "wronger" to deny him that freedom.

That tricky ground of motivation and action—or, if you must simplify it, how the road to Hell is paved with good intentions—drives the thematic center of Brooklyn's Finest. Martin's script (his first feature-length one) succeeds not because of the ethical rumination (which is incredibly familiar, especially when it comes to police dramas) but because it allows itself to study the reasoning for decent men to do things that seem to go against what others and they expect of them. It understands that a character's actions are the key to understanding. It gives us men of very ordinary goals with whom to relate and further imbues them with the most honorable of motives: to provide a tolerable life for one's family, to stay loyal to old friends, and to find a reason to wake up every morning.

There are three men, all members of law enforcement in Brooklyn in different capacities. Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a member of a drug task force. He has a wife (Lili Taylor), two kids, and twins on the way.  Their current house isn't enough, he believes, and the mold in the walls is causing his wife's asthma to flare up. A doctor warns of the potential risks to her and their unborn children and asks if he's considered moving, and his response, after a look of bewilderment which amounts to, "Of course I've considered, you idiot," is a simple, "Yeah."

Indeed he has thought of it. He is on his way to having enough money for a down payment on a bigger, better house. The way he accumulated the cash, though, is from killing thugs like the guy in the beginning and stealing money during drug raids.

Tango (Don Cheadle) has been working undercover within a drug ring for years. He even spent time in prison. An old friend Caz (Wesley Snipes) has returned to streets after a stint in jail, and for all intents and purposes, he has gone legit.

Tango's boss (Will Patton) and his boss (Ellen Barkin, making a fierce impression in only two scenes) want Tango to set up his old friend, and the reward will be the promotion and the chance to return to the old life he's always wanted. Tango slowly begins to realize that the old life he once had has slipped away while he's been entrenched in his job.

Eddie (Richard Gere) has been a patrolman for 21 years. His retirement is a week away, and his final assignment is to teach rookies the ropes of the beat. These kids weren't born when he started the job, and Eddie tries to instruct them that their overzealous desire to do right is just the kind of thing that will get them in trouble or killed.

He counts down the days until his full pension kicks in and spends the rest of his time visiting a prostitute (Shannon Kane). In one scene, he sits outside on the steps, waiting for her to finish with another customer. That he has hit rock bottom is apparent in his visible lack of humiliation. Also, he wakes up every morning, takes a shot of whiskey, and places an unloaded gun in his mouth. He is waiting for something and has been waiting for so long that it seems he is only staying around to put a bullet in the chamber.

All of their stories are set against the backdrop of a borough that is outraged by the killing a local boy by a police officer who was trying to rob the kid, and they all come together naturally on a fateful night in a housing project, where each of their ultimate choices are made, for better or worse.

These men are not heroes or villains. They may act illegally, disloyally, and apathetically, but their actions are the result of very real problems: low pay, difficult choices, a very real knowledge of injustice, and a realization that no matter what one does, things will never change. They act corruptly, but they are part of a system of bureaucratic corruption.

Gere, Cheadle, and Hawke all give us the impression of men who once had ideals that have faded without their recognition that it's happened, and director Antoine Fuqua's determined focus on these three men and their individual burdens allows Martin's rocky moral road a personal impact.

Brooklyn's Finest follows a recognizable footing, but the film's conviction to examine the reasons as much as the results keeps it from becoming simplistic morality fare and makes it a thoughtful character study of three men under the heaviest strain.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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