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Review

Strong performances bolster film’s emotional impact

Michael Brun

March 12, 2010

Imagine that you were locked in a dark room for a month, forced to watch nothing but news stories about gang violence and street crime, and then asked to write a screenplay for a movie. I’m betting that the finished product would be pretty close to “Brooklyn’s Finest.”

Movies don’t come much grittier than this. The latest from director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “Tears of the Sun”), “Brooklyn’s Finest” is a bleak crime drama set in the titular New York borough. It’s oppressive, it’s melancholic, and, if you’re into this sort of thing, it’s about as good as it gets.

The film uses a unique narrative structure, periodically switching between three main characters with unrelated plot lines. Each covers a wide range of themes, but they are unified by a single underlying concept. As explained by Vincent D’Onofrio in the opening scene, there is no right and wrong, only righter and wronger.

Don Cheadle plays a cop deep undercover in a powerful drug syndicate. To get promoted to a cushy office job, all he needs to do is bust an infamous gangster (Wesley Snipes in his best role in more than a decade). The only problem is that this “bad” guy saved his life and shows him more respect than his fellow officers do. Where would your loyalties lie?

Ethan Hawke is a troubled father, struggling to provide for his evergrowing family on a meager cop salary. His moldy house is killing his asthmatic wife, but he can’t come up with the down payment for a clean one. Is it wrong to steal money from drug dealers to save your own family?

Richard Gere takes on the role of a veteran beat cop with only a week before retirement. He’s doing his best to ignore the evil around him, counting the days until he can move away to a peaceful cabin in the country. But if you have the ability to help, isn’t the omission of action just as evil?

These aren’t original characters; heck, it’s almost laughable how clichéd they are. And yet their unoriginality hardly detracts from the film’s emotional impact. Part of this can be attributed to the strong performances by the core cast, but it’s mostly because of the film’s pervading sense of tension. The characters are all living on the brink, torn between their lives and their morals. They’re so desperate that you can’t help but feel for them.

With so many main characters involved in such elaborate plot lines, “Brooklyn’s Finest” is epic in scope. You’d think that it would be hard to follow, but I never once felt lost in the story. These gripping tales are sure to keep your attention until the very end. This is no holds barred filmmaking,

shockingly violent and unabashedly graphic. And it’s not the humorous kind of violence, either. It’s all incredibly heavy, without so much as a hint of comic relief. It definitely won’t appeal to a wide audience, but there’s a lot to like if you’re a fan of the genre.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s movies that you start to forget as soon as you leave the theater. This is certainly not the case with “Brooklyn’s Finest.” This gripping crime drama will stay with you for days. It paints the world in such an unglamorous light that it makes reality seem just a little bit darker. Don’t be surprised if you feel like taking a shower when you get home.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.