It's been eight years since director Antoine Fuqua brought us Training Day, the gritty crime drama that netted Denzel Washington his second Oscar. In between that terrific film, he has helmed a few pictures that have been hit and miss among fans and critics, Tears of the Sun and Shooter among them. Now it seems as if he's trying to strike gold twice with Brooklyn's Finest, which can only be described as Training Day-lite. While this movie deals with some similar issues (and even goes so far as to cast Denzel's counterpart in that film, Ethan Hawke), it's unfocused, meandering and it tries to justify evil if the end result is good, which I would hope any moral, upstanding citizen could see the hypocrisy in.
The film follows a number of cops as they deal with crime in Brooklyn. Hawke plays Sal, a dirty cop trying to pay for a new home for his family, Richard Gere plays Eddie, a suicidal police officer only a week away from retirement, and Don Cheadle plays Tango, an undercover cop who finds himself struggling with his allegiance because he has a duty to bring down the bad guys, but one of those bad men by the name of Caz, played by Wesley Snipes, previously saved his life and he refuses to bust him. A dirty cop, an undercover cop and a cop one week away from retirement. It's three cliches rolled into one.
The three stories do intersect at times, however rarely that may be, but I suspect the physical intersections are not the crutch of the movie, but rather the way each character's emotions get in the way of their true goals. In that regard, they all find themselves in the same boat, yet their stories play out so differently that that argument would be hard to make.
The most irksome part of Brooklyn's Finest, however, is its portrayal of these men as good men despite the evil things they have done or, in some cases, are doing. As previously mentioned, Sal can't afford a new home for his family. He has a wife and a couple of children and twins are on the way. The house they live in is encompassed with rotting wood and his wife's lungs are working three times the amount they should be due to her asthma and her breathing in mold. He needs to get them out of there. I understood this hardship and I felt for him, but the way he gets things done is inexcusable. He murders drug runners and steals their money. The film tries to make the case that there's nothing else this man can do and besides, he's killing bad guys so it's ok, right?
Eddie, on the other hand, is a cop who turns the other way when bad things go down. Early in the movie, he's on patrol with a rookie cop and the young man tries to break up a dispute between a feuding couple after the man slaps the woman. This is the right thing to do, but Eddie pulls him away and they drive off. He tells him to think nothing of it and just go home. Of course, Eddie has a change of heart by the end of the movie, but one good action does not forgive his years of neglection.
This happens with damn near every character. The film puts them on a pedestal and tries to rationalize their way of being. It doesn't work and instead of feeling for the hardships these characters are going through, I ended up loathing them all. None deserved my sympathy.
I suppose Brooklyn's Finest is technically a well made film. Fuqua directs it competently and the performances, though hit and miss at times, are far from bad, but its the twisted vindication the picture gives each character that really derails it. It tries to ask questions about what is considered right and wrong, but what's right and wrong doesn't change simply because the situation you're in calls for it to. Wrong is wrong no matter the predicament.
Brooklyn's Finest receives 2/5