Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The thin blue line grows thinner still

Brooklyn's Finest (2010) is structured along the lines of Thornton Wilder's Bridge of San Luis Rey, in which a chronicler tries to find some connection among several people who died together as part of the same seemingly-random accident. Brooklyn's Finest tells three parallel but unrelated stories of cops who died at roughly the same time in the same place. The question is why, or even if there is a why? Is it God or Fate or the natural cruelty of the universe, the nature of the blue brotherhood, or is it nothing at all?

The problem is that Brooklyn's Finest ends where Wilder's book begins. We are given all the circumstances of these co-incident deaths and no reflection on what they may mean, individually or collectively. Wilder doesn't answer the questions he raises, but at least he raises them. Brooklyn's Finest is so caught up in the detail that has brought these police officers to this point that it has no time for the larger questions.

Except, possibly, the possibility of redemption, which is what keeps the movie afloat. Ethan Hawke is killed, belatedly, for his sins, before we have a chance to know if his repentance is sincere; Don Cheadle--whose talents are in danger of deterioration for always playing a good guy; he may need to change it up like Denzel--dies by accident, borne of the pervasive mistrust between cop and community; and Richard Gere kills his own dead-souled self and comes back to life, exacting something between justice and vigilantism, but better than he was.

Director Antoine Fuqua is best known for Training Day and thus has spent time in morally ambiguous country before. But for all the hard work, there is nothing surprising, unusual, non-formulaic here. If it was not composed of three separate stories, there would be nothing remarkable about the film at all, either on a craft or an aesthetic basis. There's nothing terribly wrong with it, but with all the projects fighting for money and attention, why was this one that the people involved felt had to be made?

Still, any movie that begins with a rambling and colorful monologue by the inimitable Vincent D'Onofrio (when are he and Mark Ruffalo going to co-star in a movie?) has something going for it, right?

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