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Brooklyn’s Finest

Antoine Fuqua, as well as sounding like the protagonist of a Grand Theft Auto-type game, is a bit like John Singleton with polish. Brooklyn’s Finest, despite the odd flaw, is his best film to date.

Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle are the three heavy-handers tasked with familiarising themselves with peril on Fuqua’s gilt-edged and sun-gilded Brooklyn streets. They share the merest of scenes (an unseen criss-cross here, a shoulder collision there) but are all vantage points unto and amongst which plenty can, and does, unfold.

Gere is ebbing towards the end of a miserable career as a city cop. He isn’t popular with the fellas at the station, he isn’t popular with women (he has an arrangement – one that he clearly hasn’t got the hang of, as becomes apparent, pivotally, towards the close – with a prostitute that lives in his apartment building) and he’s far from popular with himself. He offers no succour nor comforting, aphoristic repartee to his new-blood partner, who is younger than Gere’s police career stint. He just wants to get to the end of the week and a silent, embittered but eagerly awaited retirement.

Hawke has a cluster of kids and a wife (Lili Taylor) pregnant with two more; he also lives in a wreck of an apartment that’s so ruinous and rotting that it’s a serious health-hazard. His desperation and continuing goal: procure, by whatever means and by a looming deadline, the money to cover a deposit on the new home, which waits tantalisingly in some unseen salubrious haven.

Cheadle is an undercover cop entangled (in much the same way that Lawrence Fishburne’s cop was in Deep Cover) with just-out-of-clink Wesley Snipes’ extended drug cartel. Snipes, by the way, took the martyrish, punitive aspects of ‘method’ to an admirable extreme before filming and made the likes of DeNiro and Cage look like half-arsed pretenders, by going to jail for tax evasion. That’s the kind of authenticity that you just can’t buy. Cheadle wants out of this knife-edge setup, and wants his life back. But his bosses (including a nail-hard turn from Ellen Barkin) keep squeezing him, and are squeezing him for one last favour.

So there’s nothing new to entice you, and nothing original to superficially mark this out as intriguing. However, the combination of impeccably frazzled performances and tight, often gloriously evocative direction from Fuqua fashion something of genuine interest. Of the three story-strands, too little of Gere’s backstory is illuminated to truly get to the nub of his malaise: we assume he’s lonely, burnt-out, truly misanthropy-muzzled by his imperilled daily hellbind. But he does a typically good job of hinting at a tortured undercurrent, an immanent disquiet, and is perfectly cast to get the most out of his slim character means. Hawke is tremendous: teetering and tendon-bulgingly tense as he ponders ethical swandives and bungles nightmarish swag-grabs. Cheadle, ever-superb, deftly vacillates between soul-pained duress and ingratiating infiltrator.

As mentioned, Fuqua infuses Brooklyn with a disquieting-yet-alluring palette of warped, chemical hues (great use of lighting throughout) and washes the streets with a summery restless energy Spike Lee would be more than happy with.

As the film closes, Gere walking towards us, backlit by a swarm of red and blue flashes, close-up freeze-frame fading out to blood-red credits, it’s striving for some kind of 70s-riffing gravitas that it already has in abundance. Not wanting to be picky, but this sequence has a slightly amateurish, tacked-on feel to it. Better to have had a stock coda, crane-retreating and rising shot, of Gere’s cop-car floating off into the widescreen night, or Gere appraising Cheadle’s bullet-ridden body, thus gleaning the kind of circularity Fuqua was clearly pursuing. That we are asked to draw our own circumstantial corollaries between the three main players seems a bit bogus: the film, viewed in this way, reeks of three different scripts spliced into one hodge-podge yearning for Altman-esque magnitude. That these characters are all led to the same geographical destination is not enough to warrant any dimensional or elliptical hermeticism.

Despite the flimsily orchestrated finale, where the join is not so much evident as dissuasive and clunkily distracting, the film is a success. The performances are all just the right side of hysterical and the message is age-old but powerfully evoked: chaos reigns and bad decisions always outweigh good intentions.

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