Why so tweaky, Ethan Hawke?
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes
Goes well with: The Wire, Training Day, New Jack City
If you've been wondering what Antoine Fuqua's been up to since he helped earn Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar with the searing Training Day in 2001—well, he's been making movies that aren't as good as Training Day. And, evidently, he's been watching some TV, too—specifically, The Wire. Fuqua's new film, Brooklyn's Finest, is obviously influenced by the terrific HBO series and includes several Wire vets in supporting roles.
Brookyn's Finest is no masterpiece, but it delivers something I didn't expect: an impressive performance by Wesley Snipes, who capitalizes on a layered role and taps into the depth and potential he showed years ago, before he decided to become an action hero and tax evader.
The movie focuses on one very tough week in the lives of three of the borough's conflicted cops. Richard Gere is Eddie, a burnt-out boozer who's this close to retirement. He's never done anything of particular value during his career, so, of course, the brass pairs him with a series of rookies in his last week on the job, hoping he'll be some kind of role model in his old age. Ethan Hawke is Sal, a narcotics guy gone bad. He's desperate for money, because his Catholic household is bursting with children, his wife (Lili Taylor) is on the verge of bursting out twins and his home is bursting with mold. His work brings him into contact with violence and enormous piles of drug money on a daily basis, both of which become extremely tempting. And there's Don Cheadle, who plays Tango, who's been undercover so long that he's beginning to lose perspective. He's given a chance to get behind a desk, but only if he helps take down his old friend, the drug lord Caz (Snipes), who's just gotten out of prison and is trying to keep his underlings—guys like Michael K. Williams (Omar to you Wire veterans)—from getting too ambitious.
So, one's on the verge of retirement, one's too close to the crooks and one's corrupt. There's nothing you haven't seen before, and all three of their stories play out exactly the way you expect them to. Eventually, of course, they all come together in an orgy of bullets and blood and violence because the trio are on trajectories that will obviously collide at the film's conclusion.
Gere is terribly miscast; he gives a one-note performance that in no way feels like he's just spent the last two decades in the depths of the 7-1-8. Hawke seems unable to play a part without acting like he's tweaking. Cheadle is always interesting to watch, but Ellen Barkin, as the FBI agent pushing Tango to take down his buddy, looks like someone just spit in her coffee, and the talented Brien F. O'Byrne is wasted as Sal's straight-laced partner.
Snipes gets the film's plum role. Caz is conflicted and complex, and you're reminded of the guy Snipes was when he was making films like Jungle Fever. It's the closest thing the movie has to the real ambiguity it strives for. The cinematography is nice enough when the camera's pulled back, but Fuqua frequently relies on the close-up rather than allowing his cast to interact with one another.
Is it fair to compare Brooklyn's Finest to The Wire? Sure, because the influence the series had on the film is so obvious throughout, and because the TV show has set the bar for what cop dramas can accomplish. And what was so good about The Wire is what makes Brooklyn's Finest so disappointing. The Wire existed in a huge expanse of gray area, full of ambiguities and unclear choices. In contrast, this movie plays in a narrow, black-and-white corridor where good is clearly distinguishable from evil.
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