'Brooklyn' heavy on the grit

Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010

Maybe I wanted to like "Brooklyn's Finest" too much. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe my admiration for Don Cheadle allowed the anticipation to get beyond a reasonable level. Even when I consider those possibilities, though, I cannot shake the underlying feeling of disappointment in Antoine Fuqua's cop drama.

Director Antoine Fuqua has proven he can do grit (cue the "King Kong ain't got nothin' on me" scene from "Training Day"), and a script about the complicated lives of Brooklyn cops seems like it should be right up his alley. Give him Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and a composed Wesley Snipes and we should be talking about an instant classic, right? At the very least we should have a movie that will be on par with "Training Day," "Mystic River," even "The Departed."

Or maybe I was just expecting too much.

"Brooklyn's Finest" follows three storylines within a bigger, all-encompassing look at a police department in Brooklyn. Cheadle plays Tango, an undercover cop who has been under long enough that his wife is filing for divorce and he is starting to wonder what side he is on. Tango is a character we have seen countless times, but Cheadle is good enough to make him seem interesting anyway. Hawke plays Sal, a cop who we know from start of the movie is willing to cross the line (i.e. he murders an informant to steal cash) in order to provide for his family. Gere is Eddie, a cop only days away from retiring. Nobody will miss him when he leaves and he does not seem to care about that in the least.

For most of "Finest" we get sections of each character's storyline separately, although it is clear their paths could inadvertently cross at any point. Eddie goes through the motions of his last days, trying mostly to keep his head down and avoid doing anything (except some coke with a stripper and the occasional drink while he drives). Sal has a pregnant wife, three kids, and a house he is convinced is too small to be even adequate. Short on money for the down payment on a new house, Sal is preoccupied and growing increasingly more reckless in his attempts to find drug money to steal. Tango? He is understandably bitter at his boss (Will Patton) for keeping him undercover for so long that his life is falling apart without him around to look after it. When they ask him to set up his pal Caz (Snipes), Tango isn't really sure which side he is loyal to.

Michael C. Martin's script is not boring, but it is definitely lacking in likable characters. Tango is probably the purest of the three men "Finest" follows but he, too, in the end winds up on the wrong side of the equation. Sal is flat-out murdering people; it doesn't matter why. Eddie does damage by doing nothing. Perhaps the title is a message in its own right. These... are "Brooklyn's Finest"? Let's hope not.

Nobody to like. No one to root for. Definitely, no happy endings. Yeah, Fuqua can do grit - there's not a lot in "Finest" that isn't gritty. There is such a thing as too much, though. I suspect that's what left me feeling slighted after "Finest" reached its somehow appropriately tragic end. 132 minutes of grit, stripped of anything even remotely lovable?

I wasn't exactly expecting laughs or uplift, but watching three broken men for two-plus hours filled with murder, loss, and death?

I've met my quota for grit for the year.

• Check out Carson's movie blog at www.juneaublogger.com/movies.

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