By Jonathan Smalls, Film Critic
HARTFORD — If Hollywood were a meritocracy, things would be very different.
A number of celebrities would no longer be celebrities, and there would probably be fewer film releases once we cut out all of the disappointing fluff because this utopian Hollywood would release only enthralling, high quality product. Even in the strict standards of this fantasy, however, Brooklyn’s Finest would still be a great film.
Remember Training Day, or Tears of the Sun? Of course you can; those were some great productions. You remember Shooter, or King Arthur? Those movies are pretty forgettable, so no one can blame you, if not, but all of these films were directed by Antoine Fuqua. His direction is talented, and brings out the best in a story, but is easily crippled by poor writing, or a bad premise.
With writer Michael C Martin, however, he is able to turn Brooklyn’s Finest into a very intimate, personal, and revealing experience. The focus of the story is less on the events, and more on the participants in these events.
The motivation for each of the lead characters is no thing new. Ethan Hawke is a dedicated, and desperate family man, who is not above breaking the law to take care of his own a la the Shield.
Richard Gere is a burnt out officer, who is one week from retirement, and just keeps phoning in police work each shift. Don Cheadle becomes an officer, whose years spent undercover have all but killed any chance of salvaging his marriage, life, and sanity.
The story starts in a familiar place, and the overall plot is even slightly predictable, but the story telling its self what makes this film great.
Ensemble stories are tricky, but they offer the greatest opportunity to really engage an audience. The characters can be completely different and still maintain some kind of connection, enabling members of the audience to hate one protagonist, but love another. Michael C Martin takes full advantage of this by contemporaneously telling the seemingly unrelated stories of three
cops with different circumstances. Although this could have easily turned into a messy and confusing affair, he manages to tell the stories at the same time, keep them separate, and distinct, and still tie them together in a final twist reminiscent of a Shakespeare in the Tragedy of Macbeth.
The cast is unusually strong in this piece; every one has ample opportunity to display their talent, because it depends so much on the ensemble. Richard Gere has taken a turn away from his Pretty Woman days as the romantic lead when he puts on the uniform of Eddie Dugan. Ethan Hawke is entirely committed to Sal Procida, and we buy every moment of it, and Don Cheadle as Clarence Butler stands in stark contrast to Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda. Their performances are fantastic. They are the engine, which drives this movie.
Supporting them are more giants of the silver screen like Wesley Snipes, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Will Patton. Top to bottom the actors are fully invested in their characters, and convincing.
Brooklyn’s Finest is a confluence of talent; writing, acting, and production play their parts. There is no strong, or weak link in this movie. Martin is able to use our previous experiences with police dramas to establish his characters without belaboring the point, so the camera spends more time with making us empathize with them.
Hidden within this story is a lesson in temperance, and virtue, but think about that after the credits. You need to keep your ears open, because this film is rife with funny and poignant dialogue, which you can easily miss. But even so, it is well worth a second look.