Friday, July 9, 2010

DVDebut: BROOKLYN'S FINEST -- better than you've heard, but not good enough

Antoine Fuqua is developing quite a name and a repu-
tation. He may be the most commercially successful black filmmaker working today. A journeyman director of the dark and gritty, his movies always promise more than they deliver. Yet, from his first full-length effort, The Replacement Killers, he has shown such promise that each of his films has proven worth seeing, though none truly satisfies -- including his most successful:
Training Day.

Fuqua (shown, right) never writes; he just directs.  This may be a good thing, as he has a penchant for grit and the streets. He chooses projects in which sleaze is everywhere, in every color and class, and trust is rarely to be found.  However, if this director knew more about screenwriting -- plot, set-up, fruition and the like -- his films might be a lot better. It is inevitably the plot mechanics -- too-frequent use of coincidence, unbelievable last-minute heroics -- that bring his movies down.

BROOKLYN'S FINEST begins exceptionally well, with a toss-you-into-the-middle-of-it set-up and some terrific dialog between Vincent D'Onofrio (great, as usual) and Ethan Hawke (above, right).  Much of the dialog in the entire film is first-rate (the writer is Michael C. Martin); I used the Blu-Ray's English subtitles, in fact, so as not to miss any of it. Hawke, too, is excellent, but appears again in the kind of role (playing either side of the coin) he does so often -- Training DayAssault on Precinct 13Staten IslandBefore the Devil Knows You're Dead, and now this one -- that he may soon be relegated to it.  Also on board is Richard Gere (above, left) who is as good as he's been in some time, playing a cop about to retire who has major trouble playing by the rules.

Playing by the rules is something few in this film manage, either because the rules keep changing, aren't there in the first place, or, when they are, seem to be in direct opposition to someone else's guidelines. This is especially true of the characters played by Don Cheadle (above, right) and Wesley Snipes (above, left). The latter is just out of prison and toying with going (semi)straight, while the former is a dirty undercover cop, vying for a promotion yet! Standing in the way of same is a new power broker on the block, played by Ellen Barkin, below. (Women figure but tangentially and remotely in Fuqua films.)

That sharp and funny dialog at the movie's beginning has to do with the concept of right and "righter," wrong and "wronger," as the D'Onofrio character puts it.  And this pretty much provides the theme for the movie itself, which then expands into dirty, dirtier and dirtiest -- with the cops, drug dealers and sex traffickers all vying for pride of place.  But once again, as good as is the set-up, the resolution is crap: full of coincidence (from finding a missing girl to setting up your best friend) and ridiculous, one-man heroics (or, in Hawke's case, one-man sleaze-oics) to save the day. As with all of Fuqua's films, I end up seeing it, being initially impressed and finally disappointed.

Brooklyn's Finest, an ironic title if ever there was one, is out this week on Blu-Ray and DVD for sale or rental.

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