Forgotten Films Archive: ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’, Antoine Fuqua’s Bleak Police Noir, Deserves Another Look

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Brooklyn’s Finest is a morose, foreboding police thriller painted on a broad canvas, a film with a trio of strong central performances and a ton of weight on its shoulders. And in the spring of 2010 it came and went with a big shrug of indifference.

These things happen, and despite its incredible cast – all of whom are giving the material their full attention – and all the crime drama ingredients, Brooklyn’s Finest may have been a little too dark and unforgiving to catch a wide audience. And make no mistake, these are the bleakest of circumstances surrounding our three police officers. But the film itself is beautifully shot in the shadows, and leans into a threatening atmosphere with such gusto and conviction it’s hard to deny the engaging storytelling on display.

Some dismissed the film because it was heavy on the clichés. And it is; but I’ve always contended that clichés are entirely acceptable as long as they are crafted with style and executed with substance. Brooklyn’s Finest checks off all of the crime drama cop archetypes. Richard Gere’s Eddie is a burnout beat cop whom nobody in the department likes. He’s seven days to retirement, and every morning he wakes up, takes a shot of whiskey, and practices blowing his head off with his empty gun. And, in some sort of dark parallel Pretty Woman universe, Eddie’s only human connection comes from a prostitute whom he tries to rescue, only to find out she may not necessarily want his help.

Don Cheadle is Tango, an undercover cop who’s too deep, in need of a desk job because the lines between cops and killers has started to blur too intensely. His wife has filed for divorce, and his friendship with Caz (Wesley Snipes), a drug dealer, has complicated his exit strategy. And it doesn’t help that his superior, Bill (the fantastic Will Patton), and an aggressive FBI agent (the even more fantastic Ellen Barkin) benefit more from Tango staying undercover than him pushing pencils.

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The third officer is Sal (Ethan Hawke), a deeply catholic cop with a ridiculous number of children, two more on the way, and a house being taken over by black mold. Sal is desperate for help, in serious need of some cash to put a downpayment on a new, bigger house. So he finds this cash in his undercover work, and his drug busts, only they don’t seem to be working out that well. His first sack of cash he grabs after killing a goon (Vincent D’Onofrio) has some blood on it. In his second attempt at a pay day, Sal loses track of the guy with the money in a drug bust. And so Sal’s desperation intensifies, and his plight is made tactile by Hawke, who exudes nervous ticks and pent up rage in every scene. He’s ready to explode.

And explode the story does, as these three troubled policemen plummet towards their inevitable fates. Everyone involved is sinking their teeth into the nihilistic tone of Michael C. Martin’s screenplay, and it may turn some off. But for those who lock into these disparate tales, where lines of right and just blur, this film deserves a second chance.

Brooklyn’s Finest takes us into the darkest of hearts, probably darker than the truth. But who really knows? It isn’t a perfect film by any measure, but it’s odd the way Fuqua’s film almost never even existed in theaters. These things happen, I supppose.