Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Richard Gere, Don Cheadle,
Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Will Patton, Lili Taylor, Brian F. O’Byrne, Shannon
Kane, Ellen Barkin
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Audio: PCM 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: See Review
Release Date: July 6, 2010
“We risk life and limb taking and giving money to scumbags who don't deserve it. So, you know, far be it from me to wag my finger at somebody who's looking out for himself.”
It's hard to believe that it's been almost a full ten years since director Antoine Fuqua's cop thriller Training Day surfaced onto screens and showcased a rare and unforgettably sinister side of Denzel Washington. After helming a number of big budget action pictures, Fuqua returns to the world of police corruption with Brooklyn's Finest, and it's quite simply his finest work yet. That's right, I find it superior to Training Day, and am fully aware that I maybe one of a many few who think so.
Of all movie sub-genres, the one that I'm a sucker for the most are cop thrillers. My reviews of Cop Land, Serpico, Narc, Street Kings, Pride and Glory and Dark Blue are clear evidence of that. But I honestly think that this is hands down the best movie of its kind since Sidney Lumet's Prince of the City, made nearly twenty years ago.
With this film, Fuqua has made what could easily be considered an east coast companion piece to the LA based Training Day. Only instead of focusing on the corruptible force of one cop, Brooklyn's Finest is a richly detailed and unshakably intense intertwining of three separate stories involving three different NYC cops, each of whom are facing the kind of pressures no one wants to feel. It is also a most stunning ensemble piece, featuring four actors doing some remarkably solid work.
Eddie (Richard Gere) is a cop who has walked the beat for 22 years, and is seven days away from retirement. He's also an alcoholic and not favored greatly by many of his fellow officers. As he's counting down he final seven days, Eddie is forced to patrol with rookies in order to show how the jobs done, which is meaningless to him since all he sees are all too eager idealists who have clue what they've gotten into.
Meanwhile, Tango (Don Cheadle) is a cop so deep undercover, that he is having serious trouble remembering which side he's really on. He begs his superior (Will Patton) to get him pulled out of the assignment, give him his identity back and the desk job promotion he was promised before things get worse for him. And it looks like it might reach that exact point, as Tango has earned the trust of Casanova (Wesley Snipes), a high profile drug dealer he just help spring from jail, and who's of interest to both the cops and the FBI.
And in what I think is the film's most gripping storyline and character study, we have Sal (Ethan Hawke), a good cop who's considering turning to the dark side...but with the best of intentions. His cop salary simply isn't enough to support his hectic domestic situation, which consists of a house littered with kids and a wife (Lili Taylor) expecting twins. The living conditions are making it worse, as the scent given off by the moldy wood of the interior is causing her to be sick, thus possibly effecting the pregnancy.
With no other choice in sight, Sal can't help but be tempted to snatch the countless stacks of drug money that cross his path during every drug bust. He's made countless promises to the wife that he will find her and the kids a better roof to live under, and he's determined to keep that promise, even if it means betraying the badge. And since he knows for a fact that the drug money he risks his life to recover on the job doesn't seem to benefit anyone but company execs, he sees no harm in taking some for himself...and I'm right there with him.
As you can probably tell, these intertwining plot lines don't exactly cover anything we haven't seen before in other cop thrillers (with the exception of Hawke's character). However, Fuqua's execution of the material and the fantastic screenplay by first time writer Michael C. Martin are key ingredients in making this film gripping from the minute the first scene appears.
The tension in this film never lets up for one second. And Fuqua manages to escalate the tension even further during a brilliantly executed and edited sequence midway through the film. It shows events from each of the three separate plot lines happening simultaneously, and edited together in a style I haven't seen since the likes of Magnolia.
As this sequence unfolds, Eddie and a new rookie partner controlling a heated situation at a convenience store, and Eddie hesitating but eventually allowing the rookie to keep an eye on everything while he goes to call in the incident outside. Meanwhile, Tango and Casanova confront on a rooftop someone in their crew who may or may not have snitched to the cops, and Cas thinks long and carefully about what to do with him. And Sal, while in the middle of a heated drug raid, comes across the most money he's ever seen during a drug bust...and is tempted right then and there to take some for himself.
When the stories eventually collide in the climax, it hits you like a ton of bricks and yet is subtle at the same time. All three cops are making choices and following paths that could end in either two ways; possible redemption or inevitable tragedy. Let's just say you might find yourself surprised by who is left standing at the end.
As mentioned earlier, all four lead actors are putting in some of the best work of their careers. Richard Gere always shines when he's cast against type in more complex and darker roles, and he is tremendous here as the tortured veteran cop who's seen too much. Don Cheadle is also magnificent as a cop questioning his identity while in deep cover, and watching Wesley Snipes in this film made me realize how much I've missed this charismatic actor on the big screen. Hopefully, this will help to pull him out of the straight-to-DVD rut he's been stuck in for far too long.
But for me, the one who walks away with the movie is Ethan Hawke, who is on fire in every scene he's in. The character of Sal somewhat suggests what might have happened had Hawke's character in Training Day ended up going along with Denzel Washington's evil scheme, but he's nonetheless sympathetic even as he loses his soul. I think it's Hawke's best performance yet and very worthy of a best supporting actor nomination, which he received for Training Day.
One of the best experiences one could ever have as a film lover is witnessing purely passionate filmmaking taking place within a genre they love. For me, that perfectly sums up what Brooklyn's Finest is. Antoine Fuqua, who I think may very well be the Sidney Lumet of this generation, has crafted one of the best cop thrillers ever made, and I'm not exaggerating with those chosen words. Without question, one of the 2010's very best films.
This is one film that merits a terrific Blu-ray presentation, and that's exactly what Anchor Bay has delivered. Fuqua shot the film entirely on location in Brooklyn, and the city itself looks and feels incredibly authentic in the 1080p. The cinematography courtesy of Patrick Murguia, is thoroughly effective and especially in darker lit sequences, which doesn't happen too often during a presentation. Interior set pieces such as a night club and an apartment lit entirely with red also look phenomenal. Daytime sequences also appear in fantastic form, with strong colors and crisp image detail lingering throughout.
At first, I was a bit skeptic about the fact that this was the first Blu-ray disc to include a PCM 5.1 track, since just about every new release seems to come equipped with a DTS HD mix. But as it turns out, the PCM mix delivered one fantastic piece of lossless audio, with perhaps the best sound balancing I've heard in quite some time. Dialogue delivery is handled quite effectively and flows well with music in the movie (which consists of occasional hip hop tracks and a truly mesmerizing score by Marcelo Zarvos). And when the tension hits the breaking point, by way of gun blasts or the loud sound of a police drug raid...you will definitely feel the impact!
We get just the right amount of extras on this Anchor Bay release, starting with a commentary with director Antoine Fuqua that is a very intriguing listen as he provides a terrific overview of the production and story elements. We also get a number of featurettes including “Chaos And Conflict: The Life Of A New York Cop”, “Boyz N The Real Hood”, “An Eye For Detail: Director Featurette”, “From The MTA To The WGA: Writer Featurette” and “Three Cops And A Dealer: Character Profiles”. Rounding out the extras are around thirty minutes worth of Deleted Scenes and a Theatrical Trailer.
Also included is a bonus disc containing a Digital Copy.
As cop thrillers go, Brooklyn's Finest is as hard hitting as it gets. This is a film that doesn't pull any punches and isn't afraid of being dark and a lot bleaker than your average cop movie. If you're a fan of this genre like I am, you owe it to yourself to check out this great film and outstanding Blu-ray presentation.