REVIEW: Brooklyn’s Finest

132 Minutes // USA // Millennium Films
dir. Antoine Fuqua
Sunday, March 14th, 2010
starring: Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle and Richard Gere

Over the past decade, Antoine Fuqua has been responsible for two decent achievements: Denzel Washington’s only Oscar and a few hours of entertainment. With films like Training Day and Shooter, Fuqua’s introspection into the human condition begins and ends with guns and corruption. It’s clear he’s resentful of government – or to be more general, people with power – in the same way that Neil LaBute is resentful of women. It appears to be the one and only thing he can aptly communicate over the course of a film; everything from King Arthur to Tears of the Sun to his latest in Brooklyn’s Finest are strongly critical of people with control over others.

Fuqua appears to be the type of guy who was bullied a lot as a child and now he’s using cinema to ‘get his revenge’ against those who pushed him around. In essence, this director is a coward of the most boring kind. However it’s only because he’s this way that he’s getting a pass from me this time around as one of the three stories in this multi-narrative is about a man I’m sure he can relate to greatly in Eddie (Richard Gere).

You see, the scribe for this feature is also rather unimpressive in his talents and sticks to the rudiments of cinema. He lays out three stories — only one actually insightful (Eddie’s) — but decides to put far more emphasis on the other two with Tango’s story (Don Cheadle) and Sal’s (Ethan Hawke). Now, Tango’s story is a far cry from bad; it’s actually pretty decent when it gets going. However, Sal’s story is the proprietor of the film as it begins with him and his perspective is most viewed.

At the beginning, a druggie named Carlo (Vincent D’Onofrio) is discussing how life is not about “right or wrong” but rather “righter or wronger”. “Lets be ironic,” says the screenwriter Michael C. Martin to himself “Let’s have this character get killed right after this guttural monologue”. So. boom he dies and Sal steals his money. This would be a great jump off point if the story remained consistent with such thoughts, but because neither Fuqua or Martin appears to have the mental capacity to keep from contradicting themselves, any insight into the human condition is deafened by the bombastic boom of blatant bullets. And that last bit I wrote? More lyrical than anything either provide over the two hours this film runs for.

As I mentioned earlier, Fuqua is the type of guy who is using cinema as his medium for revenge. Like a kid at a playground awaiting his fight with a bully, he’s panicky and unable to grasp the situation appropriately. Midway through the feature, Fuqua (and Martin, he gets half of the blame as well) asserts a scene where Agent Smith (Ellen Barkin) puts Tango in a precarious situation: you get the desk job you’ve always wanted if you turn in the criminal that saved your life, you know, the one that was just released from prison after a lengthy stay. “People in power are bad” right? Well, when the opening of your film says there’s no such thing as right or wrong and you make a character like Agent Smith out to be one of the most antagonistic law enforcers cinema has seen in quite some time, you’re contradicting yourself. You’re making a stand against a certain type of people when your film means to exonerate the mental capacity of basically everyone.

Which brings me to the next issue in that the film’s Catholic preachings are more pontificated than what you’d hear at a Catholic sermon. There’s no criticism of the teachings of the church: in Sal’s drawn out story he has seven children and a pregnant wife stuffed into a town home, but we don’t get too much of an impression of this family except that they’re goodhearted and religious. When you read between the lines, it’s clear that this family is so over populated because of religion; abortion is a sin, giving up your kin is a sin, everything relating to a child is a sin. So rather than criticizing the church’s opinion on children or the parents given their less-than-rich situation, Brooklyn’s Finest jumps to action and crime to ascertain a supposedly universal understanding; that all people are prone to do bad things for the greater good. Really? That’s the angle you’re playing off?

Then you’re treated to a plethora of far more confusing circumstances in the final act where main characters die and a white light appears over their head indicating they’re going to heaven. Again in principle these are fine moments, but as a part of the collective film it makes no sense. Does God honestly forgive men after shooting them in cold blood and feeling to regret? Does everyone go to heaven? No, not everyone gets one of these lights above their head; only the people who are principle players. Is a drug dealer really that much worse than men killing for money to provide for the people they care about? Where do you draw the line between right and wrong? Sorry, I mean “righter or wronger”.

Atop this practice in contradiction is an abrasive soundtrack that suffocates roughly 90% of the film, standard cinematography and direction that doesn’t know if it wishes to conceal people being shot to death or exploit it. In the end, what you get from this film is basically reiterated philosophy that will ring true to some and not to others – personally the idea that someone can say the world is not about “right or wrong” but rather “righter or wronger” is a pretentious assessment of humanity that reads more like pedantry rather than an intelligently constructed thought. As a narrative, it’s refined, it’s smarmy, it’s easy to watch — it’s everything you would expect it to be.

Although the principle cast imbue the film with a sense of honesty and great work ethic that both the writer and director appear to lack, Brooklyn’s Finest winds up being one of those films that work fine as a few hours of entertainment, but after dissecting it you realize you realize it has no heart, and worse, no brain.

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