NEW POLICE FILM IS FINE

When Ethan Hawke teamed up with director Antoine Fuqua to make the police drama “Training Day” eight years ago, he earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. You may recall that Denzel Washington won the Oscar as best actor that year for his portrayal of Officer Alonzo Harris in the same film. Now Hawke and Fuqua have been reunited in “Brooklyn’s Finest,” and intricately plotted police story about three officers facing different crises in their respective careers.

Although I doubt the film will earn any Academy Award nominations, I found it to be a consistently interesting and entertaining movie that underscores the incredible pressures involved with being a member of the New York Police Department in the notoriously rough 65th Precinct. Officers Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere), Sal Procida (Hawke), and Clarence “Tango” Butler (Don Cheadle) have arrived at different stages in their respective careers with the force. After 22 years on the job, Eddie, who has developed a drinking problem, is set to retire in just seven days. He is counting the minutes until he can walk away forevefrom his unfulfilled career of driving a patrol car. As a result of his alcohol problem, he has become the brunt of jokes at the hands of others on the force, and he feels nothing but contempt and bitterness for his colleagues.

Sal works in the narcotics division, and he has money problems. He and his wife are the parents of five children, and she is pregnant with twins. They desperately need a larger house, and Sal has made a bid on one that is so expensive that he can’t afford to make the payments. His particular assignment with the department consistently puts him in situations where he is constantly surrounded by large amounts of cash. The temptation for him to help himself is always there.

Finally, Tango has been undercover to catch drug traffickers so long that he fears he’s losing his own identity. He’s very good at what he does, but he’s tired of playing the role of a thug, and he desperately longs for some normality in his life. Early in the film, he pleads with one of his superiors by saying, “I want my life back, Bill.”

As the movie progresses, Eddie, Sal, and Tango go about their respective business until they all end up at the same crime scene for the violent, bloody, and riveting climax.The main thing that keeps us watching this film is the fact that Gere, Hawke, and Cheadle succeed so well in making us care about their respective characters that we have to find out what happens to each of them. What I particularly liked about “Brooklyn’s Finest” is that it’s not just another stereotypical shoot-em-up cop film. Although it does contain plenty of action, it is more importantly an intriguing and moving character study of three men attempting to cope with the various turns their lives have taken. In the film’s production notes, Gere made it clear that he doesn’t consider this just another cop movie.

“That would be a reductive way to explain it. We were thinking of Othello and Richard III, about big themes being played out by guys in uniforms. Genre often dumbs itself down by thinking that uneducated people are not deep. The big emotions of life, the big issues of life are still there for people who are not that sophisticated. They might not be able to articulate things the way that Shakespeare could do it, but they feel it the same way.”

The acting in this film is consistently outstanding, and in addition to the stellar performances turned in by Gere, Hawke, and Cheadle, both Ellen Barkin and Wesley Snipes contribute superb supporting performances as a hard-nosed police official and a slick drug dealer respectively. Whereas Eddie, Sal, and Tango all are pitiable, it is Sal who seems to elicit the most sympathy. He is completely overwhelmed by debt and the thought of two more mouths to feed. Add to this that his house is filled with a mold that exacerbates his wife’s chronic asthma. He’s found a new house that he really cannot afford, and you can really see why the presence of large sums of cash lying around provide an almost irresistible temptation for him. In the production notes, Hawke offered some interesting insight into his character.

“Sal is a man at war with his pride. His life has been profoundly disappointing. He’s worked really hard to be the man that he dreams of being, but his life still doesn’t look the way he wants it to look. He should have more to show for it than he does. His wife has asthma and their house has mold. He goes in to bust a drug dealer, and they got maybe $250,000 on the table. All of a sudden that money starts to look like easy pickings. And once you start making bad choices, there’s no turning back. You’re dirty. It doesn’t matter if you take $10 or $200 or $250,000; you’re dirty.”

“Brooklyn’s Finest” (Give it a score of 7.5.) offers an interesting look at the men and women who daily put their lives on the line to make America’s cities safer places for others, but it does not romanticize their existence. Police officers are people just like the rest of us, and as such they are subject to the same weaknesses and temptations facing all of us. Sadly, this means that sometimes their final hours are not always their finest ones.

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