Antoine Fuqua's latest crime drama, Brooklyn's Finest, is deeply, insultingly flawed. It's a story that weaves together events involving three New York policemen (Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle) and their respective awakenings to the existential horrors that surround them every night in the BK. Their narratives go nowhere fast, though, and Fuqua spends nearly two and a half hours bringing to life the 'Brook-Namâ?� that Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z rapped about back in 1996 on the track 'Brooklyn's Finestâ?� with ludicrous scenes of neighborhood outrage, human trafficking and poker games, all in service of absolutely nothing.Â
The fact that Fuqua seems to be treading water through most of this film is hardly its most glaring liability. That dishonor goes to the neon-flashing
elephant in the room, The Wire. The gritty, game-changing HBO show about the drug trade at the street level haunts not only this film, but also every crime drama in its wake. It's an issue that's reminiscent of director James Gray's booed-at-Cannes mob film We Own the Night, in that critics couldn't believe someone would attempt a mob film, post-Sopranos, that didn't even attempt to live up to HBO's standard.Â
Here, Fuqua at least acknowledges the inherent difficulty. He fills scenes with Wire players like Michael Kenneth Williams and Wendell Pierce, and encourages naturalistic dialogue. But the progress Fuqua makes in attempted verisimilitude backfires at every turn: His Hollywood cast, especially Cheadle and Wesley Snipes, can't sell their ripped-from-'90s-rap-songs terminology or their supposed toughness. (It's extra-puzzling that Cheadle struggles so much in this area, considering how downright terrifying he was in Out of Sight. I guess years of Hotel for Dogs and Ocean's movies scraped the edge off more than he anticipated.) The film's bit players, too, only serve to remind the audience of how utterly phony the whole enterprise feels. Ellen Barkin's rabid federal agent is surely the biggest misstep of her career.Â
'The No. 1 question is, 'Can the feds get us?'â?� said Jigga on the aforementioned track. 'Nickel-plated/Sprinkle coke on the floor/Make it drug-related,â?� responded Biggie. These were desperate dispatches from the ground level, six whole years before an episode of The Wire ever aired. If Fuqua hoped to dramatize the famous verses that created a mega-mogul out of one of the song's participants and helped end the life of the other, he's been beaten to the punch, and bested, by many years. What he leaves us with is merely an East Coast Crash.Â
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