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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A scuzzy apartment block in a dirt-poor, dangerous and forbidding part of Brooklyn forms an apt end-game backdrop for the three representative elements of the city's police force depicted in this truly engrossing film - a detective (Ethan Hawke plays Detective Sal Procida, a Catholic father-of-four whose obsession is stealing the drug money that will give his family a better house), an undercover operative (Don Cheadle plays Clarence 'Tango' Butler, who wants nothing more than to quit the game before he's asked to target his best friend, drug lord Casanova Phillips, played by Wesley Snipes), and a uniformed cop on the beat (Richard Gere plays Eddie Dugan, whose 22-year career on the streets is about to end with his retirement).

It's a composite picture that Brooklyn's Finest (dir Antoine Fuqua, 2009) weaves from these three strands. And it's a dazzling panorama that displays the worst and the best and the most uncomfortable stories that the force can deliver to us as users of its legendary services. The irony is that the one guy who emerges from the maze alive is the one who no longer carries a badge.

The picture above shows Procida's hand reaching eagerly for a stack of large-denomination notes he finds during an armed bust in the fateful apartment building. Procida will go there after another raid is called off at the last minute. His best mate, Detective Ronny Rosario (Brian F. O'Byrne), will try to dissuade him from making the move but he won't be turned from his course. Procida's wife Angela (Lili Taylor) is pregnant with twins. The additions to the family will mean that the couple, who already look after two boys and two girls - all aged 12 and under - in a rented suburban stand-alone wood house that has mould in its crumbling walls, will have to find even more room in their crowded digs. Worst, from Procida's point of view, is that the wall-mould is making Angela sick. He's determined to make the down-payment the real-estate agent is asking for, but he needs cash urgently.

What motivates Butler is getting out of the undercover game and he's ever petitioning his minder, Lieutenant Bill Hobarts (Will Patton) to get him the advancement and transfer that will see him working at a safe desk job. When Agent Smith (Ellen Barkin) appears one day with a mug shot of Phillips contained in a hand-worn manila folder, Butler realises that it's time to quit. Phillips saved his life once and he's unwilling to put the drug kingpin's life in danger by targeting him in a sting. Muscled into compliance, Butler gets spooked at the last minute but his change of heart comes too late as Phillips is shot dead from the back seat of a moving vehicle underneath Brooklyn's 'El' (the elevated railway features often in the film, its crazy shadows cutting across a number of shots taken in cars and on the streets). When Butler returns to the projects to get revenge on the shooter, he's taken out by Rosario, who has turned up to help his friend, Procida.

Dugan is the laughing-stock of the uniformed police in the precinct. With a week to go on the job he's assigned a twitchy rookie who injures a suspected thief when his gun accidentally discharges too close to the boy's head, damaging his hearing. It's another example of police brutality, say local activists, and the higher-ups want Dugan to testify that the mistake was made under duress. He refuses. "Fuck you," he tells a senior officer, who is powerless to discipline Dugan. After handing in his badge, Dugan visits the apartment of his girlfriend, the prostitute Chantel (Shannon Kane), and asks her to go away with him but she rejects him. In the car outside the apartment block he takes a swig of alcohol but then sees a girl being placed in a beat-up van who he recognises from a 'missing person' poster he has seen on the notice board in the squad room. He follows the van to the fated apartment building and finds three abused and frightened sex slaves locked in a delapidated ground-floor unit. When he is forced to confront the men responsible for the crime, they turn on him violently but he's armed and just manages to extricate himself and the girls from the hellish encounter.

Dugan and Rosario are the only ones who will walk away from the building. Back at his flat, Dugan has got a full set of fishing gear and an itinerary that includes the names of several recreational locations where he can finally unwind and forget the job he's never been brave enough to excel at. The nightmares are making him wake in fright.

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