It’s obvious almost from the title screen that the Finest should come in inverted commas, as Anton “Training Day” Fuqua’s triple-stranded drama focuses on good cops doing bad – or just seriously misguided – things. Richard Gere is counting down the days to his retirement, reluctantly riding alongside rookies and regularly visiting his favourite hooker at night. Ethan Hawke, with a house full of kids and twins on the way, is stealing drug money to fund a move to a bigger house. And Don Cheadle is so deep undercover his loyalties are being tested, especially when drug baron Wesley Snipes – the man who once saved his life – returns from prison to rule the streets once more.
Michael C. Martin’s sledgehammer script ensures no bad deed goes unpunished, as the three leads head inexorably towards a triptych of misery. The story struggles to sidestep genre clichés, convincing in the street patter but not during domestic scenes. And the dialogue can be horribly laboured – do we really need reminding several times that Hawke’s mouldy house is bad for his asthmatic wife and he really needs to move?
Fortunately, it’s rescued by some good performances – a curmudgeonly Gere is surprisingly effective, and Hawke’s jittery, twitchy turn adds an extra note of tension and unpredictability to his scenes. Cheadle is reliably solid as he tries to choose between his street ‘family’ and the dangled carrot of a detective’s badge, while Snipes reminds us what a magnetic screen presence he can be, fleshing out an underwritten role into a character with genuine depth.
Fuqua’s unfussy lensing wisely concentrates on the actors, though you can’t help but feel a better director might have got under the skin of these characters a little better. He also struggles with the film’s slightly contrived climax, closing things in an abrupt and unsatisfying way. Without a Bale or a Washington to really capture the attention, Brooklyn’s Finest is unlikely to linger long in the memory.