A crowded cast of some of the finest actors in the cinema act the hell out of a gimmicky, episodic, hit-or-miss script in Brooklyn's Finest, Antoine Fuqua's latest attempt to relive the glories of Training Day.
Writer Michael C. Martin of TV's Sleeper Cell delivers great two-handed scenes, dialogue-driven confrontations and simple, everyday-life conversations interspersed with random moments of melodramatic hooey.
And Fuqua leaves no sordid image un-lensed — graphic hooker sex, sleazy strip joints, naked women ironing drug money. Ugliness adorns the cop-picture clichés in this overly long "cops in crisis" thriller.
Richard Gere plays a drunken burnout case with seven days to go to retirement, an unpopular loner whose résumé would feature the word undistinguished. He's in love with a prostitute half his age, and he keeps his gun empty — his way of delaying a suicide attempt. He's saddled with assorted rookies and is supposed to show the ropes to them in his last days on the job.
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"I'm no one's teacher. I'm no one's role model."
Don Cheadle is on his game as an undercover officer whose years hanging with drug dealers have cost him his marriage. He desperately wants a promotion, but will he sell out a childhood pal (Wesley Snipes, terrific) to get it?
And Ethan Hawke is an overwhelmed Catholic detective with too many kids, two more on the way, a wife made sick by the mold in their home and little hope of raising the cash to move. He has made the fateful decision to shoot and rob drug dealers to save his family.
The movie's tone is set in a talky, thoughtful and shocking opening — Hawke and a snitch (Vincent D'Onofrio, perfect) chatting about right and wrong and "righter and wronger."
Cheadle and Snipes have the best exchanges, with Snipes returning to his New Jack City guise as an elder statesman of the drug trade, lifting his long-dormant game to hold his own with the great Cheadle, whose character warns him, "These streets got an expiration date on 'em."
But for every tasty moment, there's another so comically over-the-top, so silly and arch that the movie stops dead in its tracks. The Catholic cop screaming at the priest for God's help, a Fed (Ellen Barkin) so insulting to the locals that she's a parody of her "type," a poker game that inexplicably explodes into a fistfight.
It goes on and on — more than two hours of violence, raunchy sex and streetwise banter to get us to the moment when these three story threads connect.
You can see why the actors were drawn to this — good characters, nice monologues, a few explosive scenes.
But in keeping all of them happy and still making room for his own excesses, Fuqua loses any sense of pacing. He tells us where we're going but is so in love with even the scenes that don't advance the story that he can't bear to take us there. Not quickly, anyway.