Hooray! It’s a movie for grown-ups! A film outta Hollywood these days that doesn’t deal in blacks and whites and doesn’t pretend to have answers to the hard questions feels like such a rarity. Brooklyn’s Finest — from screenwriter Michael C. Martin, making his feature debut, and director Antoine Fuqua, in a thematic sequel to his astonishing 2001 film Training Day — wails with a quiet, desperate urgency amid the loud brashness that it wears like, well, a badge.
Three very different cops in the same tough Brooklyn precinct struggle with their own individual senses of honor and decency, even as that clashes with their notions of what it takes to survive — psychologically as well as physically — in the job. Their stories are just barely interwoven but the deeply satisfying overall effect is one of threads in a tapestry: of the temptations toward corruption and the urge toward righteousness at war with each other, of an intractably compromised and polarized environment in which life is all about not right and wrong but “righter and wronger.”
Don Cheadle’s been undercover in a powerful drug gang for too long and he’s begging to get out, feeling he’s earned a nice, quiet, comfortable desk job where he can wear a suit every day. Ethan Hawke is assigned to an anti-drug squad, the kind of badass gang that flies in — guns a’blazin’ — to clean up dealers’ operations. Richard Gere is still a street cop in uniform after 22 years and a scant week away from retiring. If you think you know where the cop-about-to-retire cliché is going, well ... Martin and Fuqua are not above having a sly bit of fun amid all the anguish and constant low-level horrors on display.
You can’t spoil this kind of movie: It’s too twisty, too reliant on its complicated characters to move it forward, too dedicated to making sure you feel like you’re seeing a slice of real, miserable life. It’s a full hour into the film before these three stories begin to intersect. By then, I was hooked, spellbound by what disasters I thought I saw coming but was helpless to turn away from. (Rated R)