In Theaters: Brooklyn's Finest

Movieline Score:

A trip to grimmest copland with a fine pedigree and long tradition on both the big and small screen standing behind it, in a way Brooklyn's Finest falls prey to the paradox it sets up in its first and most riveting scene. A known criminal named Carlo (Vincent D'Onofrio) is explaining to his NYPD connection Sal (Ethan Hawke) the lesson in the difference between ethics and morals that a judge recently gave him. "It's not a question of right and wrong," Carlo recalls the judge saying, citing a defendant who had to break the law to do the right thing, "but of righter and wronger." The three cops whom director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) follows through his two-plus hour urban melodrama traverse a similarly tricky x/y axis of good and bad vs. right and wrong, each one plotting a different course across the matrix of what it means to serve and protect. It's a classic set-up, if one whose tropes are ultimately pumped up beyond recognition with pomp and portent.

A marquee starring cast that is itself supported by an enviable array of day players, Sal's NYPD colleagues (this is a triptych narrative where the players merely cross paths, usually without acknowledgement) are Eddie (Richard Gere), a veteran officer a week from retirement, and Tango (Don Cheadle), an undercover agent desperate for a desk job. While Tango plays the part of a thug with a conspicuously peaceable bent -- tasked with taking down the drug dealer (Wesley Snipes, silky smooth) who saved his life, he must compromise himself to make detective -- Sal has gone rogue by the time we meet him.

Frenzied in his quest to move his family from a mold-riddled house, Sal has been skimming drug busts for extra cash, feeling justified by his miserable pay and the corruption of the NYPD brass. A Catholic with clear rhythm-method issues (his handful of children will soon be joined by the twins his wife, played by Lili Taylor, is carrying), Sal attends confession looking not for forgiveness but heavenly favor. Hawke may be the most quizzically cast Brooklyn Italian since Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets, and his methed up performance is the worst offender of the comparatively subdued bunch. Everything that could have gone wrong about his take on a similarly hamstrung family man in Before the Devil Knows Your Dead is on display here, as though even his director caved under the shadow of Hawke's patrician punk glower and mighty cheekbones.

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  • happygolucky says:

    Very clever . . . I had to read the entire piece to get to the name of the pretty woman.

  • SkinJob says:

    Attended the debut of this at Sundance last year. It was possibly the worst film I saw at the festival. Audience was laughing at the inane writing (Gere's BJ scene= best unintentional comedy of the decade). Training day this is not.