Richard Gere as Eddie
Don Cheadle as Tango
Ethan Hawke as Sal
Wesley Snipes as Caz
Vincent D'Onofrio as Carlo
Brian F. O'Byrne as Ronny Rosario
Will Patton as Lt. Bill Hobarts
Michael Kenneth Williams as Red
Lili Taylor as Angela
Shannon Kane as Chantel
Ellen Barkin as Agent Smith
Wass Stevens as Det. Patrick Leary
Armando Riesco as Det. George Montress
Wade Allain-Marcus as C-Rayz
Logan Marshall-Green as Melvin Panton
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Three Brooklyn police officers at different points in their career come to terms with the rigors of the job: Eddie (Richard Gere) is the 22-year veteran, a beat cop with just seven more days on the force and trying to get through them without making waves; Tango (Don Cheadle) has been working undercover in the projects getting deep into a drug dealing ring, but he's ready to get out, while Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a family man whose desperation to support his pregnant wife and two children leads him down the path of corruption.
The police drama certainly has had its ups and downs in recent years, but it makes perfect sense that director Antoine Fuqua, the director of "Training Day," would be the one to try to create a one-man revival with a film that leaves South Central behind and gets deep into the projects of Brooklyn to explore what makes good police officers go bad. It does this via three fables-like tales involving officers fighting against the many temptations available to them.
It opens with Ethan Hawke's Sal sitting in a car listening to a rant about "righter and wronger" from Vincent D'Onofrio, a scene that immediately tells you that you're in for a gritty and unflinching look at the tough decisions police officers make on the job. Despite the speech, Sal is on the path of wrong, leading his men to bust drug operations then trying to steal any money found to use as a down payment on a new house, since his current one has gotten his pregnant wife ill.
Richard Gere's Eddie has been on the force for 22 years and he's a loner, considered a joke among his younger peers, because he's never really made much of an effort, essentially just doing the least amount to do his job. He just has seven days left on the job and trying to get through it, but it's already taken its toll, and Eddie turns to his hooker girlfriend Chantel (Shannon Kane) to try to help him through his demons.
Meanwhile, an undercover cop going by the name Tango (Don Cheadle) has infiltrated himself so far into the underbelly of the Brooklyn projects he's gotten close to crossing the line that separates him from the bad guys. He wants out, but his handler (Will Patton) realizes what a commodity he has in Tango.
All three stories are strong enough that the movie can rely entirely on the characters and their journey without resorting to the sensationalism of car chases and shoot-outs we might normally get. Because it always focuses on the drama the characters face, you feel as if you're watching real life, which is enhanced by Fuqua's attention to detail in creating that environment on screen. Anyone who has ever encountered the criminal element in the city will be aware of how accurate this is.
A film like this would not have worked as well as it does if not for the casting of the three actors and the fantastic performances Fuqua gets out of them, especially Gere and Cheadle who do a fantastic job getting us into the mindset of what these career police officers must go through as they find themselves approaching that line no one wants to cross. Hawke also has some solid moments and more than pulls his weight in his segments, but his performance is slightly more erratic with a few moments of blatant overacting. The most pleasant surprise is the comeback of Wesley Snipes as Caz, Tango's good friend and a former druglord trying to go straight since getting out of jail, who gets tangled in Tango's attempt to get out of that life. It reminds you what a good actor Snipes was back in his early days, and their story could have easily made for a great movie in itself. The main characters are surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes the likes of Brian F. O'Byrne and Michael Kenneth Williams from "The Wire," both whom bring a lot to the film's more dramatic scenes.
Sure, "Brooklyn's Finest" may lose a few points for originality since some of it feels similar to other police dramas we've seen before, but mostly in some of the better examples of the genre like James Mangold's "Cop Land" and Joe Carnahan's "Narc." Really, it's the way Fuqua handles the material that shows he's reached another level as a filmmaker in juggling three concurrent storylines and characters arcs while ignoring the ever-present urge to bring the stories together, instead offering a couple brief encounters but otherwise, keeping them separated.
Eventually, the three stories converge in a fantastic finale where all three characters convene on the projects in order to resolve issues that have arisen based on earlier decisions. For Eddie, he has been given one last chance to do something good and possibly be a hero, while Sal is trying to make one big score. The last twenty minutes offer some of the most tense moments in the movie as Fuqua edits between the three stories so fluidly that it's hard not to be impressed.
The Bottom Line:
"Brooklyn's Finest" is a movie that could easily have gone horribly wrong if handled differently, but Antoine Fuqua is clearly a filmmaker at the top of his game, and because of that, "Brooklyn's Finest" is a far stronger movie than "Training Day" and possibly even more effective than "The Departed" because it sets up its gritty realism early on and successfully maintains that to the very end.