One cop (Ethan Hawke) needs money to buy a house. Another (Don Cheadle) wants a promotion that he believes will liberate him from the morally murky world of undercover work. A third cop (Richard Gere) maintains a safe distance from conflict because he has only seven days remaining until retirement.
Such is the setup for director Antoine Fuqua's Brooklyn's Finest, a cop drama that commits a variety of big-screen felonies. Among them: The motivations given each character in a script by Michael C. Martin and Brad Caleb Kane tend to be over simplified, and a farfetched ending – bathed in the expected bloodshed – makes the entire movie feel contrived.
Fuqua, who directed Training Day, would seem the ideal candidate for getting the most out of Brooklyn's Finest, but the movie doesn't feel as if it has an overriding sense of purpose. Brooklyn's Finest doesn't fulfill the demands of either art or entertainment; it explores the down-and-dirty world of cops who've been tempted by corruption and, in some cases, have indulged their least honorable impulses, but it seems more interested in finding pumped-up drama than in unearthing any kind of truth.
A strong cast is supplemented by an appearance by Wesley Snipes, in what's being touted as a comeback performance. Snipes acquits himself well as a gangster who has won his release from prison thanks to an assist from Cheadle's character. Cheadle's Tango owed Snipes' Cas a favor, so he helped his buddy find a slick attorney who knew how to open slammer doors.
Cheadle gives his usually strong performance as a detective who's living with too much moral ambiguity. Hawke pushes himself to jittery extremes as Sal, a detective who's driven to do better by his family. But Gere seems wooden in this context; he's playing a cop with nothing in his life but vague retirement plans, an undistinguished record and a relationship with a hooker (Shannon Kane). (If you want to see Gere really handle the role of “dirty” cop go back to Mike Figgis' Internal Affairs (1990). Maybe Gere's better at police work in Los Angeles than in NYC.)
The supporting cast can't be faulted, although Lili Taylor is largely wasted as Sal's wife, a woman who's pregnant with twins. Will Patton plays the cop who keeps promising Cheadle's character a promotion, but never seems to deliver. And Ellen Barkin shows up in a quasi-comic role as a foul-mouthed federal agent who seems interested only in advancing her own career. Say this: Barkin refuses to get lost in an atmosphere where testosterone is the hormone of choice.
Watching Brooklyn's Finest is like watching lots of urban ingredients boil in a pot without ever figuring out exactly what dish is being cooked. The movie has plenty of hard-core urban dynamism, but – in the end (and especially at the end) – doesn't have much to show for it.