'Brooklyn's Finest' manages, but we've seen it before

In the gritty new crime drama, "Brooklyn’s Finest," Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke are New York policemen working in one of the worst government-run housing developments in the city — a place where the law is futile, where despair is plentiful and hope is nonexistent; in short, it’s a place that really, really needs a volleyball center.

The centerpiece of Brooklyn's dangerous 65th Precinct is the BK housing project. Dozens of cops police it full time and many can’t help but be influenced by its desperation. Veteran patrolman Eddie Dugan (Gere), for instance, has numbed himself to it; he avoids getting involved and copes by counting-down the days until his retirement. At the other extreme, undercover narcotics office "Tango" Butler (Cheadle) is in too deep; he’s befriended his suspect and the conflict is eating him away.

Somewhere in between, but still on a fringe, is Det. Sal Procida (Hawke), who’s desperately trying to balance his work and family, even if it means volunteering for dangerous drug busts at one to finance the other.

Their paths and their personal dilemmas cross on one fateful evening at the projects. Tango has to decide between selling out his old prison buddy and a cushy desk job. Sal, who has long forsaken his oath but not his religion, needs one last score to move his family out of the small unhealthy home they overcrowd. Dugan, just retired, stumbles on a crime he can’t ignore. When it’s all over, two will be redeemed, but only one will be left standing.

Director Antoine Fuqua gives us a film we’ve seen before — Cheadle in "Traffic," Gere in "Internal Affairs," "Cop Land," "Serpico" and "Donnie Brasco." This one's a little of each of those. That’s the problem. With three very separate story lines and only incidental overlap, "Brooklyn’s Finest," is spread too thin. The story manages, but doesn’t dazzle.


Nonetheless, the veteran ensemble turn in respectable performances. The same can’t be said of supporters on opposite sides of the law: Wesley Snipes, as Tango’s old prison buddy "Caz" Phillips, is so cliche it’s embarrassing, and Ellen Barkin is remarkably unlikable as the bossy Federal Agent Smith.

Critics were not kind to "Brooklyn’s Finest," and neither were New York’s Finest, who complained the film unfairly portrayed them and the dangerous shoes in which they walk every day. Moviegoers were a bit more forgiving. The movie took the No. 2 spot on the box office chart, though far below fellow new release "Alice in Wonderland."

Still, this film’s not for everyone.

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