The New York City cop drama was once a staple in both television (“Naked City,” “NYPD Blue,” and the sadly underwatched “Life On Mars”) and on film (“Internal Affairs,” “Serpico,” “The French Connection” and “Fort Apache” come quickly to mind.) In recent years there has not been that much in the genre probably because the cost of filming in New York is not cheap, particularly in light of the recent repeal of certain New York State tax credits, and because audiences are too sophisticated to have film studios try to pass off Toronto or Vancouver for the Big Apple.
“Brooklyn’s Finest” is a decent attempt to revive the gritty urban crime drama and features a highly respected cast. It is somewhat shocking that a small film company as Overture, the theatrical arm of the Starz premium cable network), was able to gather this talent. The press notes indicated that all of the big names shared trailers and waited on line for food with the rest of the production crew to conserve costs.
The film was also shot in an economical 41 days with most of the action taking place in Brownsville. Astute observers will recognize Brighton Beach’s Oceania Theater while an uncredited Rego Park is the exterior for the small house where officer Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) and his large family live.
The film follows the complicated lives of three officers, the about-to-retire Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere); Clarence “Tango” Butler (Don Cheadle) who has been an undercover cop so long that he is actually friends with a drug kingpin named Caz (Wesley Snipes) who he met in prison when he was establishing his false identity; and finally, the aforementioned Sal Procida, a narcotics officer who feels that he has to become dirty in order to be able to give his ever-growing family a better life.
There is almost no interaction between the three policemen lead characters as their stories are told in separate arcs. The easiest to follow is Sal, who for all of his gruffness and willingness to break the law, is a determined family man who is overwhelmed by his wife’s chronic health problems and his guilt over not giving his kids a better life. It is impossible not to root for him even as he is bending and overtly breaking the law.
Tango is a bit more complex. He is a guy who knows right from wrong despite hobnobbing with drug dealers and pimps but is only motivated by moving up in the law enforcement ranks. His goal is to be a lieutenant and wear a suit to work a la his NYPD mentor, Bill (Will Patton).
As one would expect, the hardest character to figure out is Richard Gere’s Eddie Dugan. We met Eddie as he wakes up alone in his dingy apartment with a bottle of booze next to his bed. He also seems a bit too fond of Russian Roulette. Despite these unmistakable signs of depression, Eddie exhibits an almost Zen-like calm during his shift. Avoiding drama and needlessly sticking one’s neck out have been his modus operandi for putting in his time to get his pension. Eddie is a loner whose female companionship consists of a prostitute that he fantasizes will leave “the life” and live with him in his Connecticut cottage when he retires.
The acting by nearly everyone is superb with the exception of Ellen Barkin who plays a tough-talking higher up in the NYPD who is more concerned with the department’s public relations than with justice. It is sad to watch this once respected actress chew up scenery in a rather obnoxious and hard-to-watch manner.
The entire film is shot in depressing earth tones and the ending is anything but uplifting. There is also an anachronistic feel to “Brooklyn’s Finest.” The level of drug-related violent crime in housing projects is more fitting with 1991's “New Jack City” than with 2010 New York City.
“Brooklyn’s Finest” is not a bad movie by any means but my advice is to wait for the DVD or even cable.