'Brooklyn's Finest' is tense, gritty and dark

Cop movies are a time-tested genre. Some are referred to as police procedurals where an investigation is conducted in a rigorous, linear fashion. Others are, in essence, character studies, focusing on the exigencies of the job, the harshness of the environment and the corruption of the human spirit offered up in its many corrosive permutations.

Many are hard-bitten morality plays, bringing into relief the universal struggle between good and evil. The Bottom line: If done well, they can be superb entertainment — "L.A. Confidential," "Heat," "To Live and Die in L.A.," "The French Connection," "Se7en," "Dirty Harry," "Speed," "Training Day," "Die Hard," plus one of the finest almost-cop movie ever made, "Chinatown."

The recently released "Brooklyn's Finest" focuses on three NYPD officers, Tango (Don Cheadle), Eddie (Richard Gere) and Sal (Ethan Hawke), who find themselves in emotional cul-de-sacs that threaten to level them. The world they inhabit is the dark side of the moon, littered with the detritus of neglect and despair, riven with crime and drugs, where lives are squandered, wrecked, and drugs and violence permeate the very air breathed.

The film offers three snapshots of their lives as they move toward a fateful intersection. Each has made a Faustian bargain with some form of evil that will, in the end, spell ruin. Their journey makes for tense, gripping entertainment.

There are moments in "Brooklyn's Finest" when it seems all but necessary to suspend one's disbelief so desperately raw and abysmal are the mean streets of Brooklyn. Is it possible that street cops are so deeply submerged in the inner city's refuse that they begin to resemble the very people they are arresting?

Friedrich Nietzche once wrote, "Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." That is the admonition that haunts "Brooklyn's Finest."

There's Eddie, only seven days from retirement. He has long ago compromised himself and his oath to the point that he no longer cares. He is alone, his life so stark and sad that it has become devoid of purpose and meaning. In one scene, he sits with his the barrel of his revolver between his teeth.

Tango, an undercover cop, lives each day with the violent exploitation of drug dealers and predators. People are disposable. All that matters is dope and money. Tango knows that he is lost, trapped in a labyrinth of destruction. His only wish is to get his life back and yet the universe conspires against him.

Sal, a narcotics officer, is adrift, telling himself that the ends justify the means. His days are awash in druggies and drug money. Life is overwhelming him: he has children, a pregnant wife, a house that is moldy and hazardous and feels the pull of money as if it were an overwhelming gravity.

"Brooklyn's Finest" is a narrative that is intense and gritty. Some fans might call it pulp cinema, or a noirish tale that never flinches. No matter, for this film will entertain and more. But be warned: it's raw and violent and dark. Very dark.

Cop Out

If the term cop-out, when used in the vernacular, is taken to mean getting out of a difficult commitment, then this recent Bruce Willis buddy flick is indeed a cop-out. Perhaps the movie "Cop Out" could have been a good movie; instead, it's pure nonsense.

The plot, for example, is thin to nonexistent. In a nutshell: Willis has to pay for his daughter's wedding, meaning he must sell his one asset, a mint-condition baseball card. While in the middle of a serious cash transaction ($68K) at a sports-memorabilia shop, the place is robbed. Goodbye baseball card. Goodbye wedding. Willis is now desperate and determined to get the card back. That is what's at stake. A baseball card.

Who took the card? Of course, a Chicano gang, the local homeys, who are a cliché, or a long-playing L.A. stereotype. The gangsters get to go all bad, flashing their tats and .9 millimeters all tucked down their low-riding jeans, and Willis and Tracy Morgan get to have arguments about how to get the card back while flashing their guns and popping this dude then that dude and getting all bad with their tiresome bickering.

This isn't a movie. It's two hours of wasted time, filled with dumb and demeaning scenes, most crude and banal and never funny. This is not a comedy, though Morgan, as black sidekick du jour to Bruce Willis' cranky white guy detective, gives it his best effort. His problem is that he can't act and has only one expression to Willis' perpetually grumpy one-note persona, and that's angry, step-back surprise.

If you love movies, then "Cop Out" is sheer disappointment from the first frame to its inglorious end. Willis actually is a good actor who has played countless roles well. Not this time.

It's Still the Story: Oscars 2010

When push comes to shove — and it was a huge shove — it's still the story that takes the gold.

"The Hurt Locker," which won six Oscars on Sunday, including the breakthrough award to Kathryn Bigelow, first female director to win an Oscar, told a riveting, can't-turn-away tale about three soldiers, members of a bomb-disposal unit in Iraq. The film was unflinching in its examination of the toll war takes on our troops as they live each day in harm's way.

Journalist Mark Boal, who lived it as an embedded reporter and later wrote about his experience, won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The film also beat what has come to be known as the Iraq film curse wherein films about the war — "Jarhead," "The Valley of Elah," "Stop-Loss," "Redacted" and "Lions for Lambs" — died at the box office.

Consider also what "The Hurt Locker" overcame when it took the Best Film award, beating "Avatar," the highest-grossing movie of all time ($2.5 billion). First, "Hurt" cost only $11 million to make. "Avatar," cost $300 million and counting. "Hurt" has only played on 535 screens compared to the thousands of screens, in 2-D and 3-D, of "Avatar."

It's not new, the Academy nominating and rewarding fine narratives over big-tent movies. "The Blind Side," "Crazy Heart," "Precious," "A Serious Man," "Up in the Air," 'An Education" all told great stories, as did Pixar's animated feature, "Up," nominated as Best Picture and Best Animated Feature, winning for Best Animated, a film that was delightfully imaginative.

It was Pixar's third straight win, testimony to the studios consistent ability to craft fine stories that capture audiences both young and old. It's a formula as old as Hollywood, and it's the fundamental reason all of us go to movies.

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