One of the finest recent police dramas 

With “Brooklyn’s Finest,” Antoine Fuqua has graduated from ­testosterone-drenched revenge fantasies (“Shooter”) and slick, agreeably far-fetched thrillers (“Training Day”) to a powerfully effective drama that reflects his maturity as a filmmaker.

Here, in the stories of three desperate cops whose passion for justice has been sapped by station house politics and the futility of fighting wars they can’t win, he achieves an authenticity that’s hard to ignore.

His movie has been dismissed in some quarters as riddled with clichés, yet Michael C. Martin’s screenplay puts a fresh spin on well-worn scenarios. Consider Eddie (Richard Gere), a despondent beat cop seven days from retirement. Labeled a burnout, he can barely muster the energy to object, possibly because he knows it’s true.

Eddie’s last week is hardly the triumph adventure we might expect — it’s a depressing slog, marred by lapses in judgment and daily humiliations that have become routine. That Eddie shakes off his malaise long enough to redeem himself isn’t surprising, but as swan songs go, his is less than graceful. Drunk and seemingly ready to eat his gun, he literally stumbles onto a crime in progress. His heroism is almost accidental.

At least his intentions are honorable. The same cannot be said for Sal, a wayward narcotics detective played by Ethan Hawke.

Sal still attacks his job with enough energy to break a sweat, but his integrity is shot. Determined to buy a home for his pregnant wife and their children, he sells out for the money he steals from dealers and confidential informants.

Then there’s Tango (Don Cheadle), working undercover as a powerful gang leader’s second-in-command. He tells his boss (Will Patton) he wants out — after three years on assignment, he’s sacrificed his wife and identity to play foot soldier in a never-ending war on drugs.

Yet his request falls on deaf ears, forcing him to reassess his loyalties and consider resigning.

If all this sounds familiar, Martin makes it seem less so by placing it within a framework of naturalism that is bleak and brutal.
“Brooklyn’s Finest” is a violent movie, but rarely sensational. It offers an unflinching glimpse into the lives of men who have reached their breaking points, and watches, without passing judgment, as they self-destruct.

This is Fuqua’s most uncompromising work to date, but also an impressive showcase for his actors — particularly Hawke, whose blistering intensity gives Sal’s foolhardy schemes the requisite sense of urgency.

Sal’s methods are dubious, but his dedication to family is not. Like so many characters in “Brooklyn’s Finest,” he is a study in futility, racing through life and getting nowhere fast.

Brooklyn’s Finest

Four stars

Starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Vincent D’Onofrio
Written by Michael C. Martin
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Rated R
Running time 2 hours 13 minutes 

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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