Brooklyn’s Finest is a new movie about cops and robbers and cops who are sometimes robbers. The plot comes as no surprise. Before Brooklyn’s Finest, in 2001, Antoine Fuqua directed Training Day, the ultimate rogue cop film. Even though the movie is riddled with bullets, racist police and prostitutes who sometimes need saving and sometimes hold their own, Brooklyn’s Finest is not about what it means to be a police officer; it’s about what it means to be a man.
Each of the three central characters, Eddie (Richard Gere), Clarence aka Tango (Don Cheadle) and Sal (Ethan Hawke) are protector/providers, and in their struggle to do right by their families they are losing them.
From the first time we meet him, audiences sense Eddie’s desperation. We later find out that he wears his wedding ring while separated and finds solace rescuing prostitutes. When he asks a prostitute to come away with him, we recognize how desperately he wants to love and be loved.
Tango is an undercover detective who risked his relationship for his career. When the feds declare his undercover days are done, they advise him to get his life back. When he repeats in utter astonishment, “Take my life back,” audiences know how little there is to retrieve.
And Sal is the cop gone bad, but for a really good reason. As in real life, times are hard. The father of five whose ill wife is expecting twins cannot support them on his $25,000-a-year NYPD salary. Thus, he considers alternative, illegal and unscrupulous means of procuring the money he needs to buy the family a house. The moment he exclaims to his partner, “I would do anything for my family,” we know that he means absolutely anything. It’s simply heart wrenching.
Each of these men is trapped in the standard American hetero conventions for what it means to be a man. We are taught within our families and through pop-culture depictions like this that a real man provides for his family at any cost. The problem is that there is an exorbitant cost. Each of the characters dedicated their lives to a job that was supposed to provide for their families, but it doesn’t work out that way. Either money is not enough, in Eddie and Tango’s cases, or, in Sal’s case, there’s not enough money.
Eddie and Tango’s wives are not depicted in the film; their absence is palpable. Sal’s family shares a few scenes with him, but they, too, are primarily absent, completing the depiction of a man always standing apart from his family in his desire to keep them together. The irony is painful to watch because it’s so real.
A man can make all the money in the world, but what does it profit his family if he’s perpetually absent? How many men risk their lives as soldiers, officers and street hustlers to provide for their children? Yet if the unfortunate moment comes and they die, their families are left with no one. Brooklyn’s Finest is not just about peddling drugs; it’s about peddling an idea of masculinity. It’s about the price men pay when they buy into it. These ideas of manhood put men in an impossible situation. In the end, men who are cops can chase the robbers or be robbers but what about the families who are robbed of their men?