Three cops on dangerous trajectory

Three cops, three journeys to what we suspect will be doom. No good can come of the lives they lead. They aren’t bad guys, not precisely, but they occupy a world of such unremitting violence and cynicism that they’re willing to do what it takes to survive. In the kind of coincidence provided only by fate or screenplays, each one will mean trouble for the other two.

Wesley Snipes

Wesley Snipes

Brooklyn’s finest

Three stars

Rating: R (for bloody violence throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content and pervasive language)

Three cops, three journeys to what we suspect will be doom. No good can come of the lives they lead. They aren’t bad guys, not precisely, but they occupy a world of such unremitting violence and cynicism that they’re willing to do what it takes to survive.

In the kind of coincidence provided only by fate or screenplays, each one will mean trouble for the other two.

Richard Gere gets top billing as Eddie, a veteran with one week left before retirement. It is a movie convention that anyone who has a week to go before retirement must die before that week is up, but Eddie seems impatient. As the film opens, he wakes up, chugs some whiskey from a bottle, and points a revolver into his mouth. Never a good sign.

Don Cheadle is Tango, who is completely embedded undercover in Brooklyn’s toughest drug precinct, where he has blended in so well with the bad guys that it’s a fine line separating him from crime.

His friend is Caz (Wesley Snipes), a dealer trying to go straight after prison; they share one of those inexplicable bonds between two tough guys, causing themselves to consider each other brothers when they should really be nothing of the kind.

The third cop, Sal (Ethan Hawke), is a narc whose wife (Lili Taylor) provides him with more of a melodramatic emergency than we are perhaps prepared to believe.

They have seven kids, live in a house too small for them, and the mold in the walls provokes potentially dangerous asthma attacks. Oh, and she’s pregnant. Having twins.

Sal has made an offer on a new place for which he cannot make the first payment. He desperately needs cash, and there’s a lot of it around in his work.

Tango needs to somehow use Caz and yet spare him. Eddie needs to negotiate an alcoholic haze for seven more days before he can go fishing.

The film and the actors do a good job of establishing these characters in their own lives. Indeed, the best things about Brooklyn’s Finest are the one-on-one scenes.

These are fine actors. The milieu involves a tough, poker-playing, substance-abusing, hard-bitten world where the law meets crime and the two sides have more in common with each other than with civilians.

I don’t believe it’s like this for most cops, but somehow it is for the great majority of movie cops.

Cheadle and Snipes have some very good scenes involving what is left unsaid but not unsuspected. Ethan Hawke has a fierce loyalty to his wife and family, and Lili Taylor does her usual touching job with what’s basically a soap opera role. Hawke is especially effective in desperate scenes where he takes crazy risks because he needs to raise cash quickly.

Richard Gere’s character is not as rich as the other two, is more depressed, is on a more predictable trajectory.

What is rather startling is the level of the violence and killing. Although cops-vs.-drugs movies are traditionally awash in blood, Brooklyn’s Finest demonstrates a trope I’ve seen with disturbing frequency: The scene in which one character lifts a firearm and peremptorily blows away another one — almost casually or unemotionally, like cleaning house.

I complained for years about the Talking Killer Syndrome, in which the shooter delays in order to explain himself to a man who will presumably be dead soon. But Instant Killers are not the answer. The fact of taking life is robbed of weight and meaning. The gun becomes the instrument of merciless self-will.

The director of Brooklyn’s Finest, Antoine Fuqua, made Training Day (2001), the film Denzel Washington won an Oscar for. That powerfully co-starred Ethan Hawke.

This film has the same level of savage violence and the same cops operating outside the same law, but the human stakes are more obvious and less convincing.

The lives of the three cops intersect through a series of coincidences and inevitabilities, and I think we become a little too conscious that they’re being guided less by chance than by a screenwriter.

The film has a basic strength in its performances and craft, but falls short of the high mark Fuqua obviously set for himself.

Roger Ebert is a syndicated movie critic for The Chicago Sun TImes.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An anti-lockdown protest went ahead outside a café in central Alberta on Saturday, despite pouring rain and a pre-emptive court injunction. (Photo by The Canadian Press)
Anti-restriction protest underway in central Alberta despite injunction

A large crowd has gathered in the parking lot of the Whistle… Continue reading

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

Alberta recorded a single-day record of over 57,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta hits daily record of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Central zone has administered 111,735 doses of the COVID-19

Alberta reported an additional 1,980 cases of COVID-19 Friday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer adds 37th death from COVID-19, active cases drop

Alberta Health identified an additional 1,980 cases of the virus province-wide

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, is setting off a social media reaction with his calls to stop non essential shopping, such as "buying sandals at Costco", with this photo of his worn sandals, which he published to social media on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dr. Robert Strang, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Nova Scotia’s top doctor sparks meme with caution on non-essential shopping

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s top doctor has launched a social media meme… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Canada's chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Tam warns that full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Canada’s chief public health officer reminded Canadians on Saturday that even those… Continue reading

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour conducts drills during NHL hockey training camp in Morrisville, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
NHL relaxing virus protocols for vaccinated playoff teams

The NHL is relaxing virus protocols for teams that reach a threshold… Continue reading

Canada skip Kerri Einarson directs her teammates against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canada’s Einarson eliminated at curling worlds after 8-3 loss to Sweden’s Hasselborg

CALGARY — Canada’s Kerri Einarson was eliminated at the world women’s curling… Continue reading

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman didn’t expect to get hit with a double whammy at… Continue reading

A courtroom at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton on Friday, June 28, 2019. The effect of the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the Canadian justice system warn a number of legal experts. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench announced Sunday it would adjourn all scheduled trials across the province for at least 10-weeks limiting hearings to only emergency or urgent matters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of five-year-old girl

EDMONTON — An Edmonton woman was found guilty Friday of manslaughter in… Continue reading

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census mailer sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a residence in Ottawa, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Statistics Canada sees more demand to fill out census online during pandemic

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the response to the census is higher… Continue reading

Travellers, who are not affected by new quarantine rules, arrive at Terminal 3 at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Ottawa will create a new digital platform to help in processing immigration applications more quickly and efficiently after COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a digital immigration system, the immigration department said. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process… Continue reading

Most Read