So once again we have survived.

Brooklyn’s Finest

tn_brooklynsfinestBROOKLYN’S FINEST is a good not great cops and crooks movie from the director of REPLACEMENT KILLERS, Antoine Fuqua. I think it’s better than I’d heard, and I’ll tell you why, but obviously the most significant thing about it is that it has returned one of America’s greatest resources, Wesley Snipes, to his rightful home on the big screen. You guys know I love DTV, but Wesley is too powerful for DTV. He’s not as good in those. I would’ve felt like an asshole if I missed a chance to see him projected again, so I went and saw it. And by the way, I’m the only person in Seattle who did that yesterday. It’s down to one show at one theater and I was the one guy who showed up that day.

mp_brooklynsfinestSnipes is only it a little bit. Mostly it intercuts between the stories of three characters: Richard Gere as a cop about to retire, Ethan Hawke as one who’s planning to steal drug money, and Cheadle as a drug dealer (actually SPOILER an undercover cop), working with the fresh out of the joint Snipes.

Gere’s character is the least typical. His troubles aren’t real showy, he’s mostly depressed. He wakes up in the morning and plays a game of Russian roulette. Some people have a morning ritual like they make coffee, read the newspaper or even go for a jog or something. This guy has the same thing except it’s that he almost shoots himself.

Despite his depression and self-loathing he seems like a decent if unremarkable cop. Well, despite his depression and also despite his regular visits to a prostitute (Shannon Kane from BLOOD AND BONE, playing the gorgeous kind you only see in movies). He really likes her and is open with her, for example he tells her about his department troubles while she’s blowing him. But I mean as far as the actual police work he’s not corrupt, he doesn’t like that shit. For his last week on the job he gets a trainee, and he actually tries to do a good job. It’s not like TRAINING DAY (also from Fuqua).

Meanwhile, TRAINING DAY’s Ethan Hawke might as well be quoting that “King Kong ain’t shit on me” line that Denzel had. He seems all coked out and panicked all the time, but it’s because he’s getting desperate. His wife is having twins and his house is small and full of toxic mold and he has this plan to steal some drug money and use it to buy a new house. But every time the opportunity presents itself shit goes wrong.

And then you got Cheadle in this situation where the FBI wants him to set up Wesley for a drug bust but he grew up with him and had his life saved by him and knows he’s trying to get out of the life so he doesn’t want to do it.

Yeah, people have pointed out that this material has been covered before. But there’s some interesting takes on it here. It works more as a series of really good scenes than a solid story. The opening scene for example is just a really well acted conversation scene, it sets up the theme of the movie but it reminds me of THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE in the way it just seems like some small timers talking about shit. Another one I like is the poker game with Hawke and his cop friends debating the ethics of stealing drug money, then turning into a big fight over racist comments.

The Brooklyn of this movie is dirty and poor. Everything is small – Ethan Hawke’s house, the police briefing room, the locker room, the apartments where the drugs are made. It’s got a realistic feel to it, they used the locations well. It makes his New York dirty cop movie seem completely different from his L.A. one.

The whole cast is real good, and of course it’s especially good to see Snipes getting to put his skills into a role a little better than ART OF WAR II. The only person I thought didn’t quite pull off her character was Ellen Barkin as tough talking FBI lady, but it’s mostly because they gave her a ridiculous line where she calls black people monkeys to try to show off. That was a little Troy Duffy for my tastes.

(lots of spoilers coming up)

The Gere story was the least interesting to me, but it ended up in the most interesting place. At first I thought he was miscast. It was hard to accept this handsome dude as a depressed old cop. The uniform couldn’t hide that it was American Gigolo under there.

But around the time he was asking his favorite prostitute to move to Connecticut with him I thought “a ha” and realized the genius of it. This is the anti PRETTY WOMAN. In PRETTY WOMAN it’s the prostitute who feels she’s not good enough for him, she’s a lower form of life. In this one the prostitute rejects him. He tries to be romantic with her even though he just saw her with her last client and now she’s calling him by the same pet name and sweet talking him while she wipes down her crotch.

He goes out to his car and is about to swallow a bullet, but happens to see a van pick up a teenage prostitute who he recognizes as a missing girl. So he follows the van to a horrifying dungeon-like basement apartment where three girls are handcuffed to a radiator. We’ve been told he had an undistinguished record as a cop, now he’s freshly retired and he’s gonna voluntarily enter the belly of the beast.

He tries to be heroic, but it’s not pleasant. He has to pick up and carry a drugged out teen in lingerie mumbling “I’ll suck yer dick, I’ll suck yer dick.” Next thing you know he’s got an angry pimp with a bullet in his chest strangling him and banging his head against a metal shelf, and he has to choke the guy with plastic wrist restraints to get away. Man, I love it, Richard Gere seeing a little less glamourous side of the prostitution industry.

I think what holds the movie back from greatness is just the structure of the thing. I liked all three stories but having to skip back and forth between them kind of kept me from getting too involved. It feels off-balance when it’s cutting between three tense moments but one is a major drug deal and another is trying to stop a fight between a store owner and a kid that might’ve stolen a candy bar. They do kind of a CRASH thing of showing the unrelated characters walk past each other and make eye contact every once in a while, but it still feels really disjointed.

In fact, the three stories end up on the same block for the climax, and that actually made it a little confusing because I wasn’t sure if they were supposed to be on different floors of the same building or what. Some of the characters do intersect, but they have no idea who each other are.

(even more spoilers…)

In the end it’s a big mess, a huge crime scene, cop cars everywhere. There’s a dead drug dealer and dead cop in the middle of the street, another cop shot the one cop by accident, in the building there’s an apartment with a different dead cop and several dead drug dealers, hundred dollar bills everywhere, on another floor some dead human traffickers and escaped teen prostitutes. (By the way, this movie is extremely violent.) And the one main character who survives just walks away. But behind him I imagine there’s a detective asking, “What do these all have to do with each other? Are they connected?” And another cop says, “Only thematically.”

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 1st, 2010 at 3:34 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 Responses to “Brooklyn’s Finest”

  1. Given how you’ve been heckled to watch this and today’s date, Vern, I was expecting that past the jump would be “nah, just kidding, I skipped this one and caught HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON instead”.Oh well, nice review, and since putting on pressure works…review IN BRUGES!

  2. I’m actually a little surprised that you didn’t mention how similar the last shot of this movie is to the last shot in Urban Justice. That really stood out for me.

    I figure they must both be borrowing from some scene in a movie I didn’t see or don’t remember, but I like to think that Fuqua was specifically paying homage to Urban Justice. That’s because it would be awesome if that was the case.

  3. Vern, as a holiday treat, you should re-publish the April Fools page from a few years ago where you predicted the box office and talked about Shrek and the Black Eyed Peas and all that other nonsense. I was trying to find it for a friend the other day, but it doesn’t exist anymore. A quality farce like that deserves to be preserved.

  4. hmm.

  5. That’s weird. When did I get two of those?

  6. Eddie – good point. I was thinking of STONE COLD, actually, but the shot in STONE COLD is much more elaborate. You’re right, definitely URBAN JUSTICE.

    loucifer – your wish is my command

  7. Agreed re: that April Fool’s page from a few years back, Loudabagel. That thing delighted me for weeks. God damn that was some funny shit. And for the first 5 minutes or so before I realized I’d been had (it was early in the day, gimme a break), I just about wanted to cry.
    This film looks pretty good, Vern, and I wasn’t even aware that it existed. Gonna have to seek this one out. Thanks!

  8. Oh man, I was giddy as shit watching this movie every time Snipes was on-screen.

    Beers to you Wesley.

  9. duke of chutney

    April 1st, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Since you’re taking requests, will you review a Terrence Malick film sometime?

  10. Man, I really liked this movie. I’m gonna be that first asshole to bring up THE WIRE, but if I gotta be that asshole then I’ll be that asshole. THE WIRE. Anyway this is the best example of post-THE WIRE cinema that we’ve seen yet. And not just in the three cast members it borrows (Omar, Wee-Bey and Clay Davis).

    Fuqua directed the hell out of it, first of all. It looks gritty, lived-in and real. The locations are authentic. I didn’t find it as stylistically over the top as Training Day, it actually has the 70s look even though it’s set in the present. The performances are believable, all three leads are in top form and there are dozens of great little character moments from the supporting players. Some pretty savage work from everyone in the cast (I liked Barkin) I like seeing 30 seconds worth of a bit part and getting the impression of a real person existing outside of the narrative, someone who could carry their own movie in a different story. (Was that Mos Def wandering through a shot?) It had some of the verisimilitude that makes THE WIRE so fucking good. Overall it felt kind of like a feature attempt at what THE WIRE did on TV. The movie gets a bigger budget to work with, the show gets the legroom of several seasons to arc characters. You do the math on what’s a bigger accomplishment in its medium at the end of the day.

    But I see the structural gripes. I think the main problem is that the three stories don’t link, besides the indirect moments Vern mentioned and the fact that they all conclude in the same time and location. It’s just three guys going about their own business in the same universe. Thematically the stories collide in interesting ways, but plot-wise the connections between the stories are tenuous at best. It’s not really doing the Innaritu/CRASH thing, where everything revolves around some cataclysmic event. Each character was very compelling on their own, with nice clean arcs. In fact just to prove the arcs worked I’ll apply some of David Mamet’s rules of thumb:

    1) Who wants what from whom?
    2) What happens if they don’t get it?
    3) Why now?

    Gere

    1) respect from his peers.
    2) he will retire a disgrace.
    3) because he only has seven days left on the force.

    Hawke

    1) money to pay for a new house, even if it’s dirty.
    2) his wife will get sick from the mold in the walls.
    3) he has seven kids and twins on the way and can’t take the pressure anymore.

    Cheadle

    1) to end his stint as an undercover agent
    2) his duties as a police officer will conflict with his duties on the street
    3) because snipes is out of jail and trying to go clean, and if he does his job he’ll betray him.

    Pretty clean. Still feels disjointed, though. But then I start thinking about it on a thematic level. The individual components of each story were crafted well enough that I doubt these stories were just paired by happenstance. Since there is no direct, concrete plot connection between the three heroes I look at the themes. And on the face of it I see a story of three desperate cops made desperate because they are cops. They’re all facing the same existential dilemma. The job has sapped them of their strength, and left them with little to show for their hard work and dedication. They are forced into taking actions that conflict with what they feel is right inside, in order to reclaim some of the dignity and worth that they’ve been robbed of in the line of duty. I’m being pretty broad here, but I think the movie is essentially about the toll the job takes, and the choices you can make to maintain through that. It ends up being a morality tale, the two headstrong guys who corrupt themselves end up paying for their sins while the introverted guy who betters himself ends up achieving some sort of redemption.

    The movie lacks a mono-plot tying these guys together, but the stories bounce off each other in interesting ways. I kind of like that they’re not all united by some CRASHy piece of contrivance, even though it seems like it would have been less hamfisted to just put them all in the same room at the end there than basically anything that was done in CRASH or a movie like that.

    Anyway I saw this on its opening weekend and it’s stayed with me, I find it realer than TRAINING DAY and anything that reminds me of THE WIRE in a good way usually makes me happy. I give it a 9/10.

  11. Nabroleon Dynamite

    April 2nd, 2010 at 5:08 am

    The main beef around my way was that snipes wasn’t in it enough. It seems people were expecting new jack city: port of call new orleans and not the nutriginal movie that brooklyn’s finest was.

    Although brooklyn’s finest wasn’t very nutriginal to begin with.

  12. VERN: Speaking of Richard Gere playing against type, being surprisingly great, and movies with dirty cops, you should see and review INTERNAL AFFAIRS (1990). Gere gives the performance of his career as a vicious, manipulate, thoroughly dirty LA cop. It’s a very underrated, underseen thriller. I think you’d dig it.

  13. Vern, have you watched Justified yet?

    Good show but a little light in tone.

    Move it to HBO I say.

  14. Antoine Fuckqua can go screw himself. What a terrible director. Bloody hack.

  15. Jareth Cutestory

    April 2nd, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Duke of Chutney: If Vern reviews Mallick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN he can thematically tie it to BROOKLYN’S FINEST. The theme would be: characters that Richard Gere is too handsome to play.

    Gwai Lo: Clay Davis is in this movie? Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

    Asimov: Would you care to elaborate on what you don’t like about Fuqua?

  16. Stunkcock – check a few pages back, Vern posted a thread about the first episode. And I agree with you, fun show but definitely feels like it’s lacking some bite.

  17. Gwai Lo: we’re pretty in sync with a lot of how we feel about “Brooklyn’s Finest” I only think the disjointedness of the narrative takes a toll at the beginning of the movie, it takes the first two scenes from each story before you start to feel immersed in the world. I like the way everything converged at the end and even the way characters only saw each other in passing. It reminds me a lot of reading George Pelecanos, whose characters make cameo appearances in his other books but only in passing glances as though you walked or drove by them.

    Also, the scene where Gere told the prostitute he loved her might be the first legitimately great dramatic moment in Fuqua’s entire body of work. So cheers to that I say.

  18. I agree about that scene and would even say this is the most accomplished thing that Fuqua has done. Once upon a time he almost directed AMERICAN GANGSTER. I think this is his niche. He has an eye for visuals, but I don’t think he knows what to do with scripts outside of this crime film wheelhouse: KING ARTHUR, SHOOTER, etc.

    I just ordered DAYS OF HEAVEN on Criterion Blu and the only thing that could possibly be better than its arrival in the mail is the arrival of a Vern DAYS OF HEAVEN review.

  19. Gwai: I think Fuqua’s crime films might be his best, but I don’t have a problem admitting Shooter is okay with me or, at least, it was at the time. Wesley Snipes also did a film with the same plot as Shooter called The Contractor (by same plot I mean more specifically guy gets hired to kill a politician/gov’t figure and gets betrayed by the people who hired him and seeks revenge) which was not nearly as action packed as you’d expect but was still entertaining. Also, I’m even okay with King Arthur as long as it’s the one w/blood in it (I’m a cheap date in that regard), but I can’t get behind Tears of the Sun and I don’t know why. I don’t hate it, though.

  20. I think if Vern is going to do a Malick review he should do Badlands. It’s the closest thing in a Malick film you will get to Badass. We just got a Bonny and Clyde review and I think Badlands is Malick’s response to it.

  21. You’re SUPPOSED to have two of those, loudbagel. Go to a doctor if you only have one — or three. Can’t believe you never noticed until now.

    I figured this was a period film based on the photo, thirties or forties. Am I the only one?

  22. duke of chutney

    April 6th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Jareth: haha, yeah for sure.

    Gwai: yeah, I’d like to read Vern’s take on Days of Heaven the most, but all four of malick’s movies are my favorite movies ever. So I would cry real tears if he would review any of them.

  23. I loved this movie. It’s great to see a film for grownups in the theater. No 3D and all that shit. Everyone gives a great performance and, to me, it all flowed wonderfully smooth. All three stories mingled perfectly (except, I agree, at the end when I couldn’t tell at first if they were all in the same building).

    Nice time at the movies!

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