Premise: We follow the lives of a handful of Brooklyn cops.
About: Michael Martin has a great story. The 28 year old Brooklyn native and former subway worker sold Brooklyn’s Finest for 200k. Here’s what Richard Gere had to say about the script: “I’ve been dealing with making movies for 30 years — more than 30 years, almost 35 years — and I’ve worked with a lot of writers who would try to come up with something like this and would fail. It’s got such a wonderful structure to it, besides the innate rhythm and nature of it. The structure was a really terrific movie structure. It’s basically three short stories, very tangentially connected, unexpectedly, contrapuntally working together.” John Langley, a producer on the movie said it was “the most realistic cop script that I’ve ever read.” Stars Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle, and Vincent D’onofrio. Hell, even Wesley Snipes makes his way back into respectable cinema here. Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Writer: Michael C. Martin
People have asked how Brooklyn’s Finest secured such a great cast. Was it that good? Well, I mean, we all know how the system works. A big name commits to a film, be it an actor or a director, and everybody else comes swarming in screaming, “Me too! Me too!” as if they knew the script was great all along. But the reality is that most actors won’t put their ass on the line until someone else does first.
Why else would you sign up for a tough-to-sell indie film? Well obviously it helps that Antoine Fuqua’s last cop drama was the acclaimed “Training Day” (one of my favorite cop films) and landed Denzel with an Oscar. So once he gave the script his seal of approval, everybody else just thought, “Well then it must be great.” But who was that initial person who signed onto “Brooklyn’s Finest?” Who thought the script was good enough to be made into a film? Because here’s the thing. Brooklyn’s Finest has all sorts of problems.
“Finest” starts out with a big bang. Two friends are talking and a second later, one pulls a gun and shoots the other in the face. But much like the universe, a hell of a lot of time goes by before anything happens again. Sal is a Brooklyn cop with 9 kids and 2 more on the way. Every day is a struggle and he’s looking for a promotion so he can secure a deposit on a much needed larger house for his family. Tango is an undercover cop trying to bring down the Brooklyn drug trade, specifically the area known as the “Pink Houses,” a nasty group of housing projects in the heart of Brooklyn. Eddie Dugan is a 40-something Irish cop on the brink of retirement. He lives with a wife he doesn’t talk to and wakes up every morning planning to blow his brains out. For some reason, he can’t do it.
Suicide Eddie, who drinks like a fish and whose signature move is punching the clock at the end of the day, is pissed off that he has a new rookie partner. But Eddie’s kind of a joke around the precinct and if something shitty has to be put on someone, Eddie’s usually your guy. When a routine day with his new partner turns into some “save the world” shit as the rookie tries to arrest everyone in sight, Eddie storms back to his boss and demands someone else. So Eddie is given Hickey, a rook who’s a lot more like him. If they happen upon a rape outside their jurisdiction? Fuck it. It’s not their problem.
In the meantime Sal, the fucking Octomon disciple, becomes more and more tempted by the dark and easy path. Anything to get that deposit down on his new house. This becomes particularly important when he finds out that of his soon-to-be-born twins, they won’t have enough room to support both. For that reason he’ll have to make a “Sophie’s Choice” and send one of them to stay with his sister.
Gangsters Caz and Red have been running with Tango for four years now – Caz back in jail and Red out on the streets. These are the men he uses to get a beat on what’s going down in the drug world. Despite his allegiances, Tango can’t help but have developed friendships with the two, especially Caz, probably the most interesting character in the screenplay (played by Snipes). Caz just got out after an 8 year sentence in the slim-slam. He’s in that age-old predicament where he can’t make money legitimately because no one will hire him, so the only way to survive is going back to crime. Because of the three-strikes rule though, Caz could be a lifer just for sneezing in the wrong place. He’s torn about what to do. He wants to go legit but it’s so hard. In the meantime Tango’s handlers tell him they want to set Caz up because his release from jail is an embarrassment to the system. So Tango’s gotta make a decision between following orders or helping his friend. When he tells the bosses he won’t help them, they inform him they know he’s been stashing money from drug busts for the last four years. If Caz doesn’t go down, then Tango will.
My basic issue with Brooklyn’s Finest is that very little ever actually happens. After the exciting first scene, the next 30 pages are all character set-up. There’s no story weaved into it at all. It’s just scene after scene of the characters’ backstories or problems. And man, this script is abundant with one of the most basic screenwriting no-nos out there. Everybody sits around talking. We go from two people sitting around talking to another two people sitting around talking to three people sitting around talking. It’s like one giant poker game. Everyone just sits around and talks.
Eddie’s character is so damn depressing, he makes Mickey Rourke seem like Ryan Seacrest. And don’t get me started on Sal. We’re supposed to feel sympathy for this guy’s situation. But all I kept thinking was, “Dude, if you can barely support 2 kids, why the hell did you have 11??” I mean I can understand if you had 4. Maybe even 5. But 7?? 9??? You’d think at some point you’d be smart enough to say, “Hmm, maybe I can’t afford to have another kid.” So instead of sympathizing with him, I just thought he was an idiot.
Were there good things about Brooklyn’s Finest? Sure. Martin gets into the nitty gritty of police politics and brings to light a lot of the realities of being a cop in a system that doesn’t care about you (Even though a county cop’s job is a tenth as dangerous, their salary and benefits are twice as high as city cops). I also particularly liked the predicament Tango was in when he had to choose between his job and his friend. But these moments are a very small percentage of the total screenplay and for that reason, I was a very high percentage of bored.
Michael C. Martin is a great story and from that first picture, he looks like a really nice guy. But I couldn’t get into Brooklyn’s Finest.
Link: No link.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: “People sitting down and talking scenes” are the worst. Avoid them at all costs. No matter how good the dialogue is, it brings your story to a standstill. Try to have the conversations you need to have within the flow of the story. Be creative and stay kinetic. Keep your characters moving.