Wednesday, April 11, 2012

THE DEFENSE CALLS: Brooklyn's Finest

I typically like to defend an older film in this segment, one that has been maligned for a decade or more.  But I can no longer hold my tongue about Brooklyn's Finest.  I have defended this film from day one.  After seeing Brooklyn's Finest in the theater I was apprehensive for a spell because I thought maybe my initial viewing skewed my true opinion of the film.  Sometimes, a film can take over your senses and your better judgment in the theater, and only after repeat later viewings can you truly understand the movie for what it is.  I have yet to waiver on the power and the energy and the ferocity of Brooklyn's Finest, an excellent exercise in genre filmmaking.  And yet, here is a film that sits at a paltry 42% on the Tomatometer.  Here is a film panned by critics and forgotten in the wasteland of the early March releases of 2010, bringing in a pitiful $26.5 million in its entire run.  But I am convinced these reviews and this indifference was all a big mistake.

Now, I am not saying Brooklyn's Finest was the second coming of The French Connection, or anywhere near some sort of Oscar-winning picture.  But it is a quality genre film beyond these poor ratings and paltry responses.  There is true grit here, real stories, and a foundation of storytelling I could only hope for in your standard crime drama.  There is so much to like about Brooklyn's Finest, the warts begin to shrink with every gut-wrenching turn of the screenplay.  Consider the evidence:

EXHIBIT A: The Three Leads - Brooklyn's Finest relies on three central performances from three actors with their own unique portfolios.  There is Richard Gere as Eddie Dugan, the cop a few days away from retirement struggling to stave off suicide long enough to plan a fishing trip.  Then there is Tango (Don Cheadle), a cop deep undercover, more reliant on the trust and the friendship of crooks and dealers than those promising to protect him.  And finally, there is Sal (Ethan Hawke), a desperate cop, surrounded by drug money on his raids, needing some quick cash to support his family.  These three characters serve as the fulcrum of a swinging pendulum of action and tension throughout the picture.  Here are three great - and I emphasize great - actors taking on conventional characters with true conviction.  Sure, we have seen these roles played before, but not by these actors.  When the roles grow stale are when they are portrayed by lesser thespians.  Gere, Cheadle, and especially Hawke are all phenomenal actors, and there conviction alone elevates these three very crucial roles.

EXHIBIT B: Plot Detail - I often see complaints regarding the plot structure of Brooklyn's Finest, that everything ties together too easily.  Does it?  Without spoiling anything, I will say that all three main characters end up in the same apartment complex.  But they don't wind up here because of each other's actions, there are extenuating circumstances which bring these policeman there for their own reasons.  There is also a firm motivation for each of these officers.  And let us not forget, all three of the men work in the same area of Brooklyn, so it is not outside the realm of possibilities that they find themselves in the same complex.  With this logic spelled out in the film, it makes the interwoven stories work together seamlessly.

EXHIBIT C: The Use of Genre - Genre films breed a certain familiarity with their storytelling.  All science fiction films share a common thread, all Westerns have horses and gunplay and share a kindred spirit.  Police dramas are no different in that respect.  Some of the biggest complaints regarding Brooklyn's Finest was that it was overloaded with cliches.  Perhaps, but these cliches are the very framework of crime drama narrative; the crooked cop, the cop one day from retirement, the cop deep undercover, these are all elements recycled for years in police thrillers.  Brooklyn's Finest just happens to have all three of these characters in one film.  It has cliche and convention, but as I have always said it is not the fact that you have created a familiar genre, it's what you do with said conventions.  Brooklyn's Finest approaches cliche with a ferocity and unabridged violence, and three wonderful actors doing their best.  And let's not forget the ending.  This is not a conventional ending, and characters do not meet the fates one would expect from the beginning.

IN CONCLUSION - Brooklyn's Finest is not a flawless picture, this is clear.  But it is far from the poor reception it received.  I conclude this is a hidden gem with plenty of upside and very little negative within the workings of the plot.  And you would be hard pressed to find a better trio of gritty performances in a police thriller.  Narc comes to mind, and Ray Liotta's conflicted policeman might fit right in with these troubled souls.