In Antoine Fuqua's latest police drama, there is no good or bad just, as a character early in the film notes, "righter" and "wronger". The officers portrayed in Brooklyn's Finest may not be as off-the-rails bad as Denzel Washington's character in Fuqua's previous police pic Training Day, but they are grappling in a moral gray area thanks to a system that has let them down.
First up there's Sal (Ethan Hawke). A strict Catholic, with five kids and twins on the way, he's straining to make ends meet under his low police salary, and takes to stealing drug money from crime scenes, even killing in order to get it. What the film doesn't make clear is why this supposedly religious man has no qualms about murder, but apparently has an issue using contraception. When he sees an opportunity to buy a bigger house at market value, Sal begins a campaign to steal as much as he can to make the down payment, but not without a serious price that may cost him his whole family.
Next, there's Tango (Don Cheadle). Working undercover, Tango (his street name) has infiltrated one of the biggest drug trafficking gangs in Brooklyn, but he wants out. However, when he learns that the feds are targeting Caz (Wesley Snipes) the gang leader who saved his life while he was working undercover in prison, Tango becomes conflicted between living by the code of the street or turning on his best friend.
Finally, there's Eddie (Richard Gere). One week away from retirement (there always has to be one in a cop movie), he's spent his career staying out of trouble, doing things by the book, clocking in his time and working for his pension. When he's ordered to train rookies during his final week, he comes up against the negative results of playing strictly by the rules and takes one last dramatic action in order to salvage his self worth.
In the right hands, this could make for a very involving police epic, but the undercover-agent-wanting-to-go-straight and cop-one-week-from-retirement plots are stale, and Fuqua adds little that is new to the equation. Of the three stories here, only Sal's feels fresh, giving the viewer at look at the real life of a cop that is rarely portrayed on screen. Murdering drug dealers aside, Fuqua gives us an honest view of a cop who faces the same struggles many of us do with family, finances and his responsibilities on the beat all weighing heavily on his mind.
Unfortunately, Fuqua doesn't quite know what to do the with the material or the characters, and the latter half of the film, the bodies start to pile up as Fuqua sends multiple characters to their bloadsoaked demise. As the body count rises, the plot becomes more ludicrous until eventually the film, which tries hard to achieve a gritty realism, becomes simply unbelievable.
Brooklyn's Finest caused a stir at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 though it's difficult to see why. Grim, depressing and eventually, just plain stupid, Brooklyn's Finest tries to show us the fine line the boys in blue tread everyday, but finally comes to the conclusion they're all crooked, shallow and looking out for themselves.