Sundance film Festival

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A newspaper headline in "Brooklyn's Finest" asks if that borough's cops are out of control. Not only are the cops out of control, but so is this movie that, surprisingly, is made by Antoine Fuqua.

In previous action or cop movies like "Training Day," Fuqua could be relied on to balance genre conventions with an inquiry into the lives of his characters that rooted the stylized action in just enough reality. But here, thanks in large part to a highly derivative screenplay, the director allows several reckless, unprofessional cops to drive the movie into utter nonsense.

Thanks to an unusually strong cast of actors doing their best to make sense of crazy cops and enough action to satisfy fans, "Finest" does have an audience. How they react to the relentlessly downbeat, implausible story lines is another matter.

The script by Michael C. Martin and Brad Caleb Kane derives from the burnt-out cop stories that began with Joseph Wambaugh's early novels from the 1970s, then is crossed with dirty-cop movies that seemingly have been around forever. But none of this comes with any sense of authenticity. In each of three stories happening simultaneously, a cop has lost all perspective on his job yet is blithely unaware of his own irrationality.

The stories take place in — and, to Fuqua's credit, are filmed in — some of the roughest sections of East Brooklyn. As the film would have it, the neighborhood experiences daily shootings, sometimes by cops of completely innocent people, other times in countless drug raids. Certainly the line between bad and good guys is fuzzy in every instance.

Eddie (Richard Gere) has seven days left on the job — yes, the film dares to pull out that old chestnut — which he means to get through with liquor and visits to his favorite prostitute (Shannon Kane). The film implies he hasn't really worked in years.

Tango (Don Cheadle) wants out from his three-years-plus undercover assignment because his wife has left him. It's not easily done. Finally, his superior (Will Patton) and a farcically tough federal agent (Ellen Barkin) propose that he set up his best friend, drug dealer Cas (Wesley Snipes), to win a desk job.

Sal (Ethan Hawke), who works narcotics, has five kids and a wife (Lili Taylor) pregnant with twins. Desperate to move his family from a crowded rental infected with wood mold, he steals drug money with abandon. At every drug bust, he scoops up bills, and he is certainly not above assassinating a poor drug courier to steal his loot.

How did any of these characters become cops, you might wonder? More to the point, would any police force turn so blind an eye to such clearly unhinged officers? Their corruption and failures are all too obvious. Hell, they even talk to fellow cops about their cynicism and crimes.

The screenplay ends all three stories at one huge crime scene that is staggering in its illogic. It should come as no surprise that the film has only nastiness in store for each. "Finest" seems to wear its bleakness as a badge of honor while ignoring the preposterousness of each story line. Sometimes bleak can be as much a cop-out as a happy ending.

The film is well produced, and the background details of the dead-end environment, community outrage over police misbehavior and hostility at all social levels feel real. It's what happens in the foreground that rings false. (partialdiff)
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