Movie Review: Brooklyn's Finest

Once upon a time, movies like Brooklyn's Finest (which opens Friday, 3/5/10) were part of the mainstream, put there by writers like Joseph Wambaugh and Richard Price.

Tough and sorrowful, they offered flawed heroes, usually cops with tarnished ideals and at least a passing connection to who they used to or hoped to be. They were messy, sometimes ugly, reflecting reality rather than polishing it or fantasizing about what it should be.

The fact that a film like Brooklyn's Finest struggled to find backers -- and then to land a distribution deal -- makes me think that films like Serpico or any of a dozen other gritty cop movies from the 1960s and 1970s -- or even a film like Training Day, from the same director -- films that enriched the cinema, would never find sponsors in today's happy-ending, over-amped-editing-addicted atmosphere.

Directed by Training Day's Antoine Fuqua, from a script by Michael Martin (who wrote the gripping, downbeat Sleeper Cell for Showtime), Brooklyn's Finest follows three cops who are at crisis points in their lives. Each must make a decision -- and then live with it.

Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a fearless plainclothes cop with a serious financial problem. The house he shares with his wife (Lili Taylor) and kids is crawling with mold, which is a health hazard for his children and, particularly, for his asthma-afflicted wife. He's got a deal to buy another, larger house before it goes on the market -- but is short the cash he needs for the down payment. So he is walking point on bust after bust, taking risks, eyes open for the opportunity to steal drug money before it gets logged into evidence.

Tango (Don Cheadle) has been undercover so long that it's cost him his marriage. He tells his handler (Will Patton) that he wants out -- that he's earned the right for a normal life involving suits and desks and a normal routine. His promotion, he is told, will come through as soon as he closes the book on one last major bust, targeting a drug kingpin (Wesley Snipes).

Eddie (Richard Gere) is a burnt-out case, a uniformed patrolman with a drinking problem, a death wish and a week to go until retirement. But in that final week, he's saddled with rookie partners, who he's supposed to show the ropes and not infect with his corrosive attitude.

Within each of these three plotlines lurk obstacles, pitfalls and moments of grace. Fuqua wastes little motion or time on anything extraneous. Instead, this is a fast-moving locomotive, with characters headed down the track to an inevitable collision with a bad destiny.