Three Brooklyn cops have very different careers: Eddie (Richard Gere), about to retire, no longer cares about doing the right thing; undercover drug agent Sal (Ethan Hawke) is bending the rules until they break; while Tango (Don Cheadle) is so far undercover that he’s beginning to forget who the good guys are.
Antoine Fuqua’s sprawling tale is a mini-epic, with the three parallel narratives playing off one another and intersecting in a final, cataclysmic finale. It’s been quite a while since Fuqua’s Training Day (2001), which was his finest hour until now, but he brings a similar quality of intensity and gritty reality to this production.
The film asks interesting moral questions of its protagonists. While the narrative is ostensibly about the war taking place either side of the thin blue line, in reality the story is more concerned with characters who are at war with themselves. To a large extent, the conflict in Brooklyn’s Finest is internalised, which is a difficult concept to portray convincingly on screen.
All three leads put in fine performances, with Gere and Hawke surprisingly impressive after years of mediocre work. Richard Gere, in particular, turns in an eye-opening performance: overtly passive, given that his character is simply clock-watching until he can retire, Gere invests his deadpan role with a rare depth, particularly in the few scenes he shares with Eddie’s hooker-squeeze, Chantel (Shannon Kane), where Eddie’s sense of longing for something - anything - he can commit to is palpable.
Also impressive is Ethan Hawke, whom we tend to associate with fey, sensitive characters. Fuqua - who previously worked with Hawke on Training Day - draws a compelling performance from the actor, who creates a character who is to be pitied and sympathised with despite his dirty dealings.
The supporting cast plays an unusually strong part, with Wesley Snipes, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lili Taylor and Ellen Barkin all good value for money.
The movie is arguably too long for its own good, but each separate strand works on its own merits, and it seems churlish to suggest that any of the triptych should be cut back. Fuqua combines a steady pace with dynamic editing to create a tension that seeps through all three stories. He also keeps the story rooted in the gritty, scuzzy details of life on the streets and invests proceedings with a degree of realism that is at times disturbing, all the while blending the cops’ domestic and professional lives, and the subtle ways in which the line between right and wrong can be blurred. - Declan Burke
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.