What must it be like to be writer Michael C. Martin? Good, I'm thinking. While convalescing at home, he entered a screenwriting contest to win money for a new car. He did not win the contest, but his first-time work gathered so much attention he wrote a full-length feature script while working for New York's Mass Transit Authority (MTA). While the film was shot in Brooklyn, he was still working for the MTA until the film's producers urged him to quit his day job and help with the film. Considering the way Brooklyn's Finest turned out, I'm thinking he made the right decision.
Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) directs the film which focuses on storylines surrounding three Brooklyn police officers. They are primarily independent from one another but do coincide on brief occasion. Eddie (Richard Gere, I'm Not There) has spent more than 20 years on the beat and is days away from retirement. Whether he'd enjoy it or not is debatable, as the streets have taken a toll on his health. Sal (Ethan Hawke, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) is a veteran of the force and a devoted family man, but with kids and a wife expecting twins, the house is crumbling around them and he begins to wonder how he can get a piece of the drug money pie. The third character, Tango (Don Cheadle, Traitor), is an undercover cop with conflicting loyalties after his superiors ask him to set up a recently released criminal who is also a good friend (Wesley Snipes, Drop Zone).
In similar films featuring multiple storylines, the story can become muddled as the film wears on, and while I was surprised that the film ran more than two hours, Fuqua juggles the storylines with great ease, as each character has increasingly more tension incorporated into their lives as officers. With Eddie, it's breaking in a new rookie and having second thoughts on allowing him to diffuse a situation on his own in a local convenience store. For Sal, it's his wife (whom you'd almost forget was Lily Taylor, recently from Public Enemies) and her developing pregnancy complications. With Tango, it's a little more obvious; he has to make a case against Snipes' character, Casanova. Each navigates the balance between doing what's right versus what's convenient. This conflict slowly builds throughout the film before reaching its crescendo in the final moments.
If anything detracts from the film, it is those final moments, when the characters cross paths with one another. However, unlike other films where the character's lives intertwine, and the ending ruins the experience, it's inevitable that the three cops will encounter one another The ending might be a strike against the film, but a forgivable one, as Fuqua builds drama and tension better than that in New York City cop films since Cimino or Lumet.
It helps that the performances by the 'above the title' names are excellent. As Eddie, Gere is unclear about the next phase of his life, and his relationship with a prostitute is one that he genuinely likes and puts time into, until he finally realizes that the relaxed life is something she's not prepared for and doesn't want. Hawke's performance as Sal continues what I consider an unheralded run of outstanding performances. Looking far older than his 39 years, every ounce of stress and pressure financially and professionally show in his face and actions. While both Eddie and Sal want to do the right thing in the end, Sal is more aware of his temptations and doesn't fight as much to avoid them. Consider that Training Day was less than a decade ago, it's almost as if Hawke is playing a more jaded version of the same character, and doing it well.
As far as Cheadle's performance, I feel like I'm downplaying it by saying that his turn as Tango constitutes another notch in an already packed belt of great performances. So if I can take his role for granted for a second, I'd like to talk about Snipes' performance as Casanova, which is arguably his best dramatic work in a couple of decades. After coming out of jail, Casanova has the opportunity to reclaim his Brookyln territory and business, and while he takes the necessary steps to do so, he also develops a zen-like attitude wherein he doesn't sweat the small stuff. Casanova knows it's not worth killing a rival with gangster bravado, and he seems to value his friendships a little more than before. Tango's decision on whether to betray this longtime ally is hard, but it's made all the more so by Casanova's actions, which Snipes conveys convincingly.
It's easy to dismiss Brooklyn's Finest as two hours of cops and robbers drenched in hip-hop, despite the names and accolades of those involved in the film. But because of those names, the film becomes a taut, entertaining enterprise. Not too shabby for a former MTA worker.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 2.40:1 widescreen, Brooklyn's Finest uses the AVC codec to make the high-definition presentation look sharp. Fuqua shows the housing projects of Brooklyn with remarkable depth, clarity and detail, to the point where you can identify texture in brick buildings. On closer shots, facial pores and hair are easily discerned, and the nighttime actions in New York (and New Jersey) give us rock-solid blacks that provide an excellent contrast. Skin tones are reproduced accurately and the overall image lacks any conspicuous DNR issues. Outstanding viewing, to be sure.
You've got a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound option and a 5.1 PCM track. The PCM track was a little on the underwhelming side. Perhaps it's because I've been subjected to DTS-HD tracks for months. That said, you get the full effect of the hip-hop music that serves as the de facto score for the film, and in sequences set in clubs, the low bass murmur is replicated accurately, making you feel like you're part of the show. Gunshots ring out over the soundstage and sound like you're in the middle of things. The early scenes are a bit problematic; for example, when Sal and a friend are in a car in the middle of New York, you need to compensate for the hushed dialogue. However, things calm down and become balanced and strong for the duration. It's decent listening material.
Kicking things off, Fuqua provides a commentary that is entertaining and possesses a good deal of recollection. He talks about the production and about how he secured some of the supporting cast, along with Snipes' legal troubles at the time of production. He even touches upon the meaning of Hawke's tattoos. The character motivations, symbolism and impact of a particular scene are discussed at times too. He's a pretty active participant, though he trails off a little as the film goes on. As he's the only participant and it's more than a two-hour film, it's understandable. It's an excellent track that sheds light on the film.
Moving on, eight deleted scenes (31:11) are next, including things like Tango's traffic stop and a couple of alternate endings that show Gere killing himself, along with the more unbelievable one where Snipes' character lives. But they're solid scenes and you can see Fuqua's quandary about whether to cut them. Five smaller features on the film are next: "Chaos and Conflict" (6:48) examines the cast's respective allure to the material and Fuqua's thoughts on it. "Boyz N The Real Hood" (5:48) covers the needs and reasons for shooting in Brooklyn, and the stars share their thoughts on shooting in Brooklyn. Additionally, members of the neighborhood provide their thoughts on it; Fuqua even donated cameras to the budding neighborhood auteur to help stoke the creative fires. "An Eye For Detail" (6:34) examines the casts' thoughts and ideas of Fuqua, while "From the MTA to the WGA" (5:16) focuses on Martin. "Three Cops and a Dealer" (8:00) covers the film itself, where the cast share their thoughts on the character and Fuqua shares his thoughts on them and the material itself. Trailers for the film (along with The Crazies and Spartacus: Blood and Sand) are next. A second disc houses a digital copy that you can download to the portable entertainment device of your choosing.
Don't dismiss Brooklyn's Finest as just another urban-themed film with a couple of actors you know. It has more potential than it's given credit for with a story that's excellent for a first-time writer and the performances are done very well. Technically it's a solid disc and there's enough meat on the supplemental bone, so you should have no qualms in renting, nay even buying, this one.