9.03.2010

REVIEW: Brooklyn's Finest (Antoine Fuqua, 2010)

It's tough to sum up precisely why I always have hope for Antoine Fuqua films. Sure, in spite of some misses in the director's filmography, Training Day was decent and I have a soft spot for King Arthur. My confidence in the guy, though, isn't exactly comparable to the confidence I have to a fault in, say, Oilver Stone. Stone, in spite of similar filmography inconsistencies Fuqua has endured, at least has some true greats to go by a la The Hand, Wall Street, The Doors, Any Given Sunday and Alexander. There's just something about Fuqua, though - even when he's under some summer-tentpole-lovin' studio exec's white knuckles - that brings me eagerly back for more, sure I'll eventually discover something truly fantastic. Well, "truly fantastic" though Brooklyn's Finest may not be, it did the trick for me and then some, becoming what is likely Fuqua's finest.

I can't say I wasn't a little worried going in. I had long anticipated the viewing with hopes high enough to work against the film were it not to deliver to expectation (whereas, naturally, lower expectations tend to yield better initial results). The opening few scenes were admittedly shaky, but I hung in, maintaining the excitement I had felt upon my first viewing of the trailer. Thankfully a stride is hit early on and from there it's a slow, often intense burn through bitter streets, reminiscent of Boogie Nights' third act. The donut shop... "On the Lookout"... "Sydney's Loop"... okay, well, there's hardly any matching all that, but the Paul Thomas Anderson influence from Boogie Nights and even Magnolia - particularly on the screenwriting and scoring ends - is palpable.

An acquaintance of mine humorously stated one could craft a drinking game around Brooklyn's Finest, where you'd take a shot for every cop movie cliché you catch. His punchline was you'd probably be wasted by the thirty-minute mark. An avid viewer of cop movies may certainly agree... and I've seen what I consider my share - but I don't feel this dragged anything down at all. In fact, the only cliché that really bothered (after engrossing in a 140-minute, Brooklyn-set film I almost typed "baw-dud") me was yet another instance of the ever-irksome jolting-up-out-of-bed thing.

Probably the biggest reason I was excited for Brooklyn's Finest was the cast. I am a fan of each headlining actor and here they are absolutely at their respective bests. Richard Gere treads darkness as a beat veteran with little to cling to apart from a death wish. Ethan Hawke seems to draw from two of my favorite performances - the mellow, brooding Al Pacino in The Godfather and the loose, wild Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon - as a conflicted Catholic at the end of his rope. Don Cheadle gets a rough deal, as the actors he shares the most screentime with are more stilted and generic than CSI: Miami (Wesley farkin' Snipes being the glowing exception, of course), but in true Cheadle fashion, he pulls through.

One could say - and I'm sure many have - Brooklyn's Finest is trying to be The Departed. The similarities are there in both the story itself and how that story is told visually with inspired dialogue in place of tedious exposition, but Brooklyn's Finest sets itself apart quite handily through tone and focus. It may be mostly predictable, but I don't think the predictability injures its impact. What's more, with a trio of Éric Rohmer's moral tales fresh in my memory, I can't help but see how the three protagonists here are treated similarly to Rohmer's male leads.

Before I open a monstrous can of Rohmer worms and keep us all here that much longer though, I'll quickly suffice to say the morals, actions and motivations of our three Brooklynite coppers could be discussed for hours, and that fact alone is enough to make what is already a really good movie into a really memorable one.

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