‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ movie review: Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke in solid NYC cop drama

Brooklyn’s Finest is a perfectly decent cop movie (or rather, three perfectly decent cop movies), the only problem being that we’ve seen them before, usually cheaper and better on TV: The Wire, The Shield, etc.

It’s capably directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), taken down a few amps from his usual work, but just doesn’t bring much new to the table.

Fuqua cuts back and forth between three stories that, we sense, will become entwined by the end even though they have nothing to do with each other. Two tired conventions: there’s no reason for these stories to cross paths, and the intercutting doesn’t work as well here as it does (in much shorter bursts) on TV; the director builds up some good story tension in 10-minute spurts, then loses it all when he cuts to something entirely unrelated.

In one storyline, Ethan Hawke stars as Sal, a strung-out cop who debating whether to swipe some of the cash he encounters on a daily basis while busting drug dealers. His wife (Lili Taylor) is pregnant with their fifth (sixth?) child, the mold in their cramped house is giving her asthma attacks, and he needs money for a down payment on a new house before the realtor turns it over to someone else.

Hawke is quite good – in full, world-is-collapsing Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead mode – but his character’s moral dilemma just didn’t fly with me. In the opening scene, we see him kill a man in cold blood, for, I assume, a lunchbag full of cash. What’s with any dilemma after that?

But Hawke can play a twitchy basket case with the best of ‘em, and while a cop buddy tries to convince Sal that hey, you should be happy with all those kids and a loving wife, we never doubt the direction Sal is going to end up in.

In another storyline, Don Cheadle plays Tango, an undercover cop who has been on the streets a long time. So long, in fact, that he begins to side with the drug pushers, especially Caz (Wesley Snipes), who once saved his life, over his supervising officers played by Will Patton and a rabid Ellen Barkin. You know what’s going to happen here: Tango is gonna have to make a choice.

And in the most interesting storyline, Richard Gere plays Eddie, a good cop who has seven days to go before retirement. And no, the obvious does not occur here. Instead, Gere plays a guy who has done everything by the book for an entire career, and is now questioning whether the book is right.

He takes a do-gooder rookie out on patrol, who questions Eddie’s bravado when he plays it straight rather than doing the right thing. The next time Eddie sees that rookie is in an obituary, but the point has been made.

Brooklyn’s Finest does just about everything right, and undemanding audiences will leave satisfied. But the genre doesn’t do the film any favors, and there’s an air of been-there-done-that that I’ve noticed in other recent cop movies: Pride and Glory and We Own the Night, both of which were superior to this film but not entirely successful. Or maybe I’ve just been watching too many cop dramas on TV.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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