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I’m going to start this review off more honestly than usual (though I do hope if my reviews aren’t well written, they are at least honest in all cases). I had no interest in watching Brooklyn’s Finest from the beginning. Everything about the film’s advertising pointed to desperation. Three of the four leads (Richard Gere, Wesley Snipes and Ethan Hawke) are quickly dwindling into STV obscurity, and the fourth (Don Cheadle) isn’t known for turning down too many paycheques. The director, Antoine Fuqua, has proven his talent over the last decade, but failed to move himself out of ‘urban crime drama’ mould when 2004’s King Arthur met with studio interference and was forgotten. From my point of view, having not actually stopped to watch the film yet, Brooklyn’s Finest is a transparent attempt to recapture the Oscar gold struck by Fuqua’s Training Day, which also stared Ethan Hawke, and saw the actor receive his one and only Academy Award nomination. I was really hoping A.J. would take this one on, but he picked a better movie instead. And now my review is super late, so it’s into the generic, but well made urban crime drama fire I go.

Brooklyn's Finest
Things open and our main characters are set up as a hesitant, Catholic guilt-ridden corrupt cop (Hawke) hiding his sin from his family, a suicidal, drunken cop on the verge of retirement (Gere), an undercover a heart of gold who has sunk too deep (Cheadle). The supporting cast features an idealistic young Turks, and a boisterous, charming crime boss with a rat tail (Wesley Snipes). Oh, and the cop on the verge of retirement loves a hooker, the undercover cop is forced to bring down his closest criminal friend, and the corrupt cop’s wife is pregnant with twins and deathly allergic to mould in the walls. These characters are defined in the broadest visual and expositional terms, and their defining traits have been old news since Raymond Chandler starting writing. The dialogue is sometimes so stilted and unnatural I’m not entirely sure it isn’t meant as some kind of statement on the state of genre. The performers are all pretty much trapped in overdrive, except Gere, who plays it so dour he looks as if he’s going to pass out any minute. Eventually Gere's story takes an interesting enough turn to warrant continued viewing, even for those of us otherwise completely out of patience. The actor’s melancholy and character’s predictable problems actually approach something resembling affection, and turn out the biggest shocks in the end.

The ensemble aspects do, however, mostly work from a storytelling standpoint. Fuqua interlaces the three major storylines effectively, and about as organically as anyone could expect. Basically the movie works overall because the audience is given three short films, and for some reason three cliché-ridden short movies is more easily acceptable than one cliché-ridden long movie. Fuqua and cinematographer Patrick Murguia create a sense of flow between stories with surprisingly graceful camera work (not a lot of shaky-cam here), and smooth editing practices. The three-way set piece at the center of the film is close to great filmmaking, may be the best I’ve seen from the director, and is one of a handful of moments that overcome the unoriginal story and properly embrace the over-the-top performances. An inevitable sense of doom lingers throughout the three stories, but Fuqua never develops that appropriate brand of gut-wrenching promenade found in Requiem for a Dream, Magnolia or Amores Perros. The final act is reasonably satisfying, but doesn’t really resonate beyond the expected shock value (at least it didn’t for me).

Brooklyn's Finest

Video


Brooklyn’s Finest, which comes to Blu-ray in 1080p, 2.35:1 widescreen, is shot for maximum grit, which means its plenty grainy, dark interiors, and overcast daylight exteriors. And when I say dark I mean ‘stub your toe looking for the light switch’ dark. Dark as pitch. Close-ups and medium shots actually wear this darkness pretty well, including sharp highlights and fine details. Overall colour schemes mostly skew towards natural, including gray streets and brown houses, but certain colours subtly follow certain storylines. Gere’s house is lit with bold reds while his daylight reality is particularly cold, the drug house is tinted with sickly yellows, Hawke’s homelife is warmer and yellow, and Cheadle’s basic dealings are often tinted by oranges and reds. These aren’t visual rules, but there are some noticeable themes. The colours are well blended, and sharply separated when needed. There are some perfect pops throughout, like Hawke’s poker table, Cheadle’s diamond earrings, and Gere’s uniform. The transfer reveals some possibly avoidable chinks in wide-angle shots, where grain is more prevalent, colours become slightly muddied, and highlighted edges expand with minor enhancement.

Brooklyn's Finest

Audio


One again Anchor Bay goes the uncompressed, no brand name PCM audio route, which means many viewers will be forced to accept the compressed Dolby Digital track instead if they want to experience a 5.1 channel mix. Both tracks are pretty similar, but the DD compression does rear its head in terms of overall volume. Of course there ends up being little purpose to the rear channels in the end, as the vast majority of the track is frontal and pretty thin in terms of sound effects. I ended up adjusting my system’s balance to cut back the volume of the center speaker a little bit, but not because the dialogue is distorted at higher volumes, rather I felt I was missing out on incidental stereo and surround effects, which are few and far between. There’s one scene that features just about the softest rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ I’ve ever heard. The song is so low on the track it strikes me as a waste of the production’s money. I recall one solid sounding surround channel helicopter, and a few stereo channel crowd sounds, but directional support isn’t much of an issue. Gun shots are very loud on both tracks, and feature a solid LFE punch on impact. These and Marcelo Zarvos’ consistently building symphonic score are the track’s strongest assets.

Brooklyn's Finest

Extras


Extras begin with director Antoine Fuqua’s solo commentary track. The track is utterly humourless, and tonally Fuqua’s speech pattern threatened to lull me to sleep any minute, but there are some interesting nuggets in the mix. The director spends too much time narrating, stumbles over his thoughts a little too often, and ignores plenty of the film’s obvious problems (can’t really blame him for that one…), but his discussion of themes, especially visual themes is consistently engaging, and makes the second viewing at least somewhat meaningful. A smart track overall, if not a particularly entertaining one, save the behind the scenes tale of Wesley Snipes’ legal troubles.

Next up are a series of making-of featurettes starting with ‘Chaos and Conflict: The Life of a New York Cop’ (6:50, HD), which despite its title is just a basic post-release EPK. Discussion includes scripting, actor research, character traits and general themes. Richard Gere’s brief interview shows insight I missed while watching the film, and reveals that he knew this was a B-Cop film at its heart. ‘Boyz N The Real Hood’ (5:50, HD) covers the location shooting, which despite the Brooklyn area’s reputation, went off without many hitches. The crew donated four cameras to students at a local school. ‘An Eye For Detail’ (6:30, HD) is concerned with Fuqua as a director, focusing on his work with the actors. ‘From the MTA to the WGA’ (5:20, HD) follows suit, focusing on writer Michael Martin, who apparently wrote the script while working for the MTA. This rags to (semi)riches story really makes me wish I liked the film more. Still very strong first time script. ‘Three Cops and a Dealer’ (8:00, HD) is the most trailer like of the featurettes, though it’s meant as a look at the cast and characters.

The disc is completed by a collection of deleted/extended scenes (31:10, SD), most of which just flesh out expositional pieces, including Gere’s and Snipes’ most impressive work, and a better ending, and Anchor Bay trailers.

Brooklyn's Finest

Overall


My initial assumptions prove mostly correct, Brooklyn’s Finest is a derivative attempt at recapturing former glory. It’s not a bad film, and director Antoine Fuqua brings a lot to the table visually speaking (I’d love to see him tackle a horror film), but familiarity, stiff dialogue and unearned melodrama make for some hard going. Viewers looking for an original, enticing, and engaging crime drama will likely be disappointed, but those with softened expectations, and a genuine love for the actors involved will probably enjoy a rental. Richard Gere’s character’s plot line is mostly worth traversing the bumps in the road. This Blu-ray presentation is about as crisp as can be expected from such gritty and dark material, but Anchor Bay’s use of generic PCM will be a problem for viewers without the appropriate audio equipment. The extras are brief, but informative enough, including a whole lot of extended material that would probably have made the film better if included in the theatrical cut.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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