MOVIE REVIEW- Force field: Cop's lives are tough in <i>Brooklyn's Finest </i>


Anyone who would choose to become a police officer after seeing Brooklyn's Finest should be disqualified as psychologically unfit.

Director Antoine Fuqua has made a few films of varying quality since Training Day, but that's the one he's best known for. He returns to similar territory with Brooklyn's Finest and again demonstrates his flair for combining violent action with serious drama in depicting the lives– and sometimes deaths– of those whose job is to protect and serve us.

The three stories that make up the movie rarely intersect, but all take place during the same week in Brooklyn's 65th Precinct. Burned out Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere) is to retire at the end of that week after 22 years of decent but undistinguished service. He grudgingly consents to help break in a couple of rookies (Logan Marshall-Green, Jesse Williams), but that doesn't go well.

Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) rationalizes the stealing of drug money to take care of his sickly wife (Lily Taylor) and several children (with twins on the way). Though he doesn't consider it a crusade, he saves the state a lot of court expenses by leaving no witnesses alive. He's filled with guilt but makes a good case for the money not being well used if it's turned in. Still, his saintly friend Ronny (Brian F. O'Byrne), Brooklyn's cleanest cop, tries to act as his conscience.

Undercover operative Clarence Butler (Don Cheadle), whose street name is Tango, suffers from the Donnie Brasco syndrome. He befriended druglord Casanova Phillips (Wesley Snipes) in prison, where Caz saved his life; but Tango's job is to set Caz up and bring him down. Feeling underappreciated by the police and having just been served divorce papers by his wife, Clarence's loyalties are divided, "Tango and Caz" jokes notwithstanding. He's trying to get out of his assignment: "I want my life back."

Screenwriter Michael C. Martin juggles the three stories well, only occasionally neglecting one for too long at a time. He pours the melodrama on a bit heavily sometimes, with a realtor constantly reminding Sal of his deadline to put a down payment on a new house, while wood mold in the old house is killing his wife.

Tango's tough-but-tender approach makes him stand out among the thugs he associates with and causes him to lock horns with ambitious dealer Red (Michael Kenneth Williams). Will Patton plays Tango's contact on the force and Ellen Barkin plays their superior. (Is the song "Sea of Love" thrown in as homage to her?)

Dugan, whose marriage probably ended some time ago, has no interests in his off-duty hours but a prostitute (Shannon Kane). After playing it safe for 22 years, he waits until after he retires to try to be a hero.

Brooklyn's Finest can't avoid clichés– how many ways can you show a person being shot?– but it's good at avoiding pat moralizing. Nothing here is black and white, and good and evil have infinite gradations.

The performances are fine, but even the best, which would probably be Hawke, becomes one-note after awhile. Fortunately the notes of Hawke, Gere and Cheadle work together to strike an effective chord.