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Originally published Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

'Brooklyn's Finest': Characters on a parallel path to a shared destiny

"Brooklyn's Finest," an engrossing if underwhelming drama by Antoine Fuqua, stars Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle as three very different cops, each on his own distinct, parallel storyline.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Brooklyn's Finest," with Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Ellen Barkin, Wesley Snipes. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, from a screenplay by Michael C. Martin. 140 minutes. Rated R for bloody violence throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content and pervasive language. Several theaters; see Page 15.

About halfway through Antoine Fuqua's uneven new crime drama, "Brooklyn's Finest," there are a few moments when the film's three stars — Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke — occupy the movie screen at the same time.

Well, not quite all together: Gere's character, a soon-to-retire patrol officer, literally bumps into Cheadle's undercover cop, who is deeply embedded in a drug- trafficking gang. In a different but equally abrupt scene, Gere and Hawke's wild-eyed narcotics detective have a brief, low-key conversation, like two strangers chatting in a checkout line.

And that's it. It doesn't sound like much, but in fact those seemingly inconsequential bits of overlap between "Brooklyn's Finest's" three anti-heroes and their parallel story lines are a small thrill. Among other things, they're proof that the story's rigorous shape — the way Gere, Cheadle and Hawke each remain on their own separate, distinct paths while looking like they're still part of the same movie — works just fine.

There's much to admire about such formalities in "Brooklyn's Finest," especially its orchestration of so many colorful emotions sparked by the ethical ambiguities, frustrations and fears of its trio of cops, who are quite different from one another.

Gere plays lonely and alcoholic Eddie, leaving the force after 22 years of mediocrity and indifference. Hawke is the wired Sal, who has taken to stealing drug money during busts to buy a house for his ailing wife and brood of kids. Cheadle portrays morally exhausted Tango, who has bonded with a drug kingpin (Wesley Snipes) he's expected to take down.

Fuqua ("Training Day") and writer Michael Martin manage to keep all the stories from ever derailing. If their control over the story is sometimes a little stifling, they balance that by upending audience expectations at times.

On the other hand, they don't deliver the real goods when all three cops plow into a shared destiny in the film's bloody climax. After investing so much time with these characters and their pent-up, conflicted feelings about survival and various kinds of injustice, an audience should be rewarded with something at least slightly apocalyptic.

Instead, the film's ending wavers between pettiness and slick irony, redeemed somewhat by a brave rescue set in a horrifying pit of sex slavery.

Ultimately, "Brooklyn's Finest" is engrossing in the same way a halfway decent, made-for-television move is. The film's best asset is its performances, including an unexpectedly soulful one by Snipes, little seen in recent years.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

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