The opening scene of director Antoine Fuqua's "Brooklyn's Finest" makes plain the film's thesis, the difference between "righter and wronger" and the struggle with it that cops, in particular, confront. It's a great scene -- and a reminder of what a fantastic actor Vincent D'Onofrio can be -- that nicely sets the stage for the parallel stories of three member's of Brooklyn's Finest, played by Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle and Richard Gere, each of which deals with the question in different ways.
It's hard to watch Hawke's performance and not draw a straight line back to his work in "Training Day," and even he would probably acknowledge that. He is in all his spittle-flying, neck vein-popping glory as a cop desperate for cash to get his family out of a house that is far too small for them. Cheadle is a smoldering ball of muscle, barely keeping a grip on reality after being undercover for so long that he's not entirely sure which side he's on. After more or less phoning it in for the past two decades, Richard Gere manages to remind you why he was, for a time, among the most promising young actors of his day. His rage is palpable, almost as off-putting as the indifference he manages to convey.
The script was, incredibly, written by a Michael C. Martin, a Brooklyn local who penned it in mostly only in hopes off winning a $10,000 prize in a screenwriting contest so that he could replace his car that had been totaled in a 2005 accident. Considering its origin, it's a remarkably good story, but there are too many slips up in logic, motivation and character arc -- and a liberal sprinkling of cop movie cliches -- to make the whole thing plausible. But it's unfair to hang all of the blame on Martin, these are the kinds of slips that Hollywood chronically makes.
And as pitch perfect as the opening scene is, only one of the three principals is truly struggling with the battle between "righter and wronger." Of the other two, one long ago gave in to wronger, and the other can't be bothered to take a side, his eyes fixed firmly on his pension.
As for the climax, while one could argue that it's an operatic tragedy, a statement on the impossibility of redemption, it's hard not to be reminded of "The Shooting," the controversial Andy Samberg-Bill Hader sketch from Saturday Night Live. Frankly, acting and directing this good deserve a better legacy. "Brooklyn's Finest" is that rare movie that doesn't measure up to the sum of its parts.