' Cinema Romantico: Brooklyn's Finest

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Brooklyn's Finest

Stop me if you've heard any of this before: A cop is seven days short of retirement but then is enlisted to show a couple rookies the ropes. A cop undercover in the local drug ring has gone in so deep that he is beginning to forget which way is up. A cop with a perilous family situation - seven kids and a wife pregnant with twins and all living in a rundown house replete with mold - begins to wonder what might happen if maybe, just maybe, he took a little bit of that drug money for himself.

Typically a film takes one of the above plot developments and runs with it but what makes "Brooklyn's Finest", released earlier this year and now out on DVD, different is that it takes all three of the above plot developments and runs with them. You've never seen such ambition with such an unambitious foundation.

The director is Antoine Fuqua, the auteur who helped win Denzel Washington an Oscar for "Training Day", and went all Ridley Scott in attempting to legitimatize the "King Arthur" myth, and in his latest, with plenty of style to burn, he is unremorsefully aiming for the fences. These storylines are three hearty swings.

The film stars, amongst others, Wesley Snipes as a man fresh outta prison (hmmmmmm) and way back in the early 90's Snipes starred in "Sugar Hill", a wannabe gritty operatic opus that would be the drug trade's "Godfather" and was crushed by the weight of its desperation to be an American epic. Now epic films can be fantastic, of course, whether or not the storylines are familiar. You can tell stories that are nothing new but you have to make them matter. Your mechanics can be foregone if we still feel the weight of the ramifications and if that weight is countered with just a little levity. But "Brooklyn's Finest" is grimy and grimier and for as much as the script packs it lacks punch.

One of the film's obvious themes is redemption and the movie itself's redemption is its acting, uniformly solid from the top on down. Ethan Hawke is Sal, the cop with the family problems, and it seems that perhaps Mr. Hawke has found himself a niche - what, with this and "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" - as the down-on-his-luck, can't-get-it-together but still good-hearted guy. He makes his problems your problems. Is there another actor right now who so convincingly portrays exasperation? Don Cheadle is the guy going "Donnie Brasco" undercover who finds himself torn between loyalties to the police force that seems to have turned a blind eye to his deepening plight and to his drug dealing confidant Caz (Snipes). He keeps us on edge the whole time as to whether or not he is about plunge into the abyss. Richard Gere is the facing retirement Eddie and in this role he seems to retreat within himself. He is quiet, so quiet, and in the early scenes watches things as if he is not really seeing them. This is a man who has given up on everything, a notion Gere does an admirable job of conveying on his own, who will eventually have to choose whether or not to save just one thing.

All three of these men will be pushed to the brink. To act or not to act? They will, as they must, take the law into their own hands. Movie characters are always taking the law into their own hands without any real regard for how such actions might be viewed within the context of reality. This is rarely a concern in the law-being-taken-into-own-hands genre, of course, but since "Brooklyn's Finest" spends two hours addressing morals again and again the most intriguing element of the entire film is the outcome, which I won't give away, per se, and instead observe that the characters who take the law into their own hands strictly for self-serving purposes do not survive and the characters who take the law into their own hands for reasons bigger than themselves in the grand scheme do survive.

So is that the lesson for kids entering the police academy? Remember, only take the law into your own hands for reasons bigger than yourself in the grand scheme. If this is true than why was Major Colvin's Hamsterdam shut down on "The Wire"?

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