Irony underlies the title of "Brooklyn's Finest," a drama about cops who are anything but fine at their jobs. And director Antoine Fuqua pounds that irony home with a sledgehammer.
Fuqua rounded up a fine cast — Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes and the director's "Training Day" co-star Ethan Hawke. They all deliver with a fine sense of urgency and toughness appropriate to the dark story. The production values are quite fine, Fuqua crafting a harsh urban landscape where vice can flourish.
So why does "Brooklyn's Finest" turn into such a bloody mess?
Well, there's the body count, for starters. Fuqua and first-time screenwriter Michael C. Martin — a New York City transit worker who grew up in Brooklyn — seem to think the solution to the city's problems is a dramatic reduction in population.
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They kill off lots of people in nasty ways with the remorseless glee of a cruel boy torturing insects.
"Brooklyn's Finest" takes the principal flaw of Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" —"We don't have an ending, so let's shoot everybody in the head" — to heart with such frequency and savagery that the violence would almost be comical, if only it weren't so repellent.
Martin's screenplay has the basis of three interesting stories about cops in various degrees of distress or burnout.
Uniformed patrolman Eddie Dugan (Gere) is trying to get through his final week before retirement without making the slightest impact — something he clearly has grown adept at as his years on the beat turned him into a lump of passivity.
Murderous narcotics detective Sal Procida (Hawke) will stop at nothing to score cash from drug dealers so he can put a down payment on a better house for his sickly wife (Lili Taylor) and their growing brood of children.
Undercover cop Clarence "Tango" Butler (Cheadle) is ready to crack from the strain of running with drug peddlers and torn by a sense of betrayal against kingpin Caz (Snipes), who saved his life while Tango was building his cover in prison.
These men occasionally bump into one another, but "Brooklyn's Finest" mostly spins three disjointed chronicles, the action never adding up to anything more than its grisly parts as gunfire and bloodshed continually erupt around Eddie, Sal and Tango.
Other than a few dashes of humor managed by Hawke, the movie is relentlessly bleak and barbarous, Fuqua grinding viewers down through his cavemen-with-badges depiction of police work.
Hawke, who scored an Oscar nomination as the upright newbie to Denzel Washington's corrupt veteran detective in "Training Day," clearly relishes this chance to play bad cop, and he's quite good at it. Though Sal's actions are contemptible and absurd, Hawke hurls himself into the part without reservation, capturing moments of paternal pathos amid the chaos he's forced to stumble through the rest of the time.
Cheadle and Snipes form a nice fraternal bond, and while Gere is as earnest as his co-stars, he feels vaguely out of place cast as the burnout who doesn't give a damn.
There's nice support from Ellen Barkin, Will Patton, Michael Kenneth Williams, Brian F. O'Byrne and Vincent D'Onofrio, though as with the key players, their performances generally are drowned out by the frenzy around them.