I can almost imagine how the pitch meeting went. The man making the pitch comes up and asks the studio executives if they liked The Departed. They all nod their heads in agreement. Sure they liked it; I mean, it did win the Oscar and it's hard to go wrong with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. The man continues by asking if they liked Training Day. They again nod in agreement; it's hard to argue with the film that gave Denzel an Oscar, right? Now, the man continues asking if they would like to see those two movies combined into one big cop thriller? That sounds pretty good. Get a couple of name stars and you have yourself a deal.
And so it was done. The handshakes were made and the deals were signed and the film was made. Now the question is not so much whether you would like to see it made; now the question is whether you actually want to see it. I have seen it, taking the bullet in a manner of speaking. I can report that yes, it is worth seeing, but it is not nearly as good as the two films I referenced despite sharing a director and a star with Training Day.
The drama takes on a three-pronged approach and I do not believe it is at the benefit of the film, although I do understand what they were attempting. The problem is that despite a runtime that passes the two-hour mark we are not given enough time with any of the characters to truly get a grip on them and their respective stories, not to mention their interactions with each other. With this being the case, it should also be said that the movie does have moments that work, but they work on a scene to scene basis without encompassing the big picture.
Each of the three stories are headlined by a recognizable face and they bring as much life to the film as they can. The stories span a weekend in Brooklyn and they all center on the drug and prostitution business. It is an unflinching journey that is graphic in its depiction of the individuals and the consequences. It has a shoot first, ask questions later mentality that will challenge the viewer. It is bloody, it is violent, and it is gritty. No, it is not the most of any of those things I have seen, but it does achieve a certain level of effectiveness, much like the acting.
Richard Gere plays a career uniform officer named Eddie. He is one week away from retirement and anxious about his retirement in equal proportion to his desire to end it all, evidenced by his little morning ritual involving whiskey and a revolver.
Don Cheadle is Tango, an undercover officer who needs to get out and reclaim his life. He has been under so long that he is starting to lose track of which side he is on. The arrival of old friend Cas (Wesley Snipes), just out of jail, does not help matters.
Finally, there is Ethan Hawke as Sal the narc. His drama stems from his home life which involves his wife, their five kids (plus the twins she is pregnant with), a house that is too small, a house that has mold in the walls, and Sal's willingness to cross all lines and boundaries for them. For him corruption is little more than providing for his family at the expense of the evidence. Sure, it is drug money and there is more than enough to get a conviction, but where is the line and can you ever go back once it has been crossed?
Based on the nature of the stories and the grittiness of the proceedings, it is easy to see that this is a story about the build up and a climax that will forever change the players. The question is how they are all going to come together. The three characters rarely have any direct contact as there stories are distinctly different despite being so closely linked. From the opening moments you will see that this is not going to end well. As they say, there is no joy in Mudville.
Each of the stories have their moments. Watching Eddie forced to take rookies out on one of the most dangerous beats of the city while not wanting to have anything to do with it is interesting. Unfortunately, there is so little time spent here that I could not cultivate a connection. Besides, his story is also involved with a prostitution ring as he seeks to find a personal connection where there cannot possibly be one. Meanwhile Eddie is trying to steal drug money to pay for a bigger house in a better neighborhood. He claims to be the good guy while knowing he is doing bad things. His best scenes come when he is at odds with one of his partners on some basic ideological assumptions. I do not want to give them away, but they are quite moving, especially later on.
The best of the bunch is the tale of Tango. There are shades of Infernal Affairs and Donnie Brasco as Tango begins to lose himself in the in-between. Don Cheadle brings a high level of emotional complexity and depth to the role. The conflict plays out on his face as he tries to balance his friendships with what is right and what needs to be done. His relationship with Cas is quite strong and helps bring focus to the entire film. I would have loved to see this story be the focus of the film. Sure, we have seen this before, but Cheadle is so good that I would not mind seeing it again.
In the end, I enjoyed it somewhat. I liked the grit factor, I liked the explosive violence, I loved the Don Cheadle performance. Still, I can not quite get behind the movie. We do not get enough of any of the stories to make a lasting impact and I do not feel the ending was earned nor the best way it could have gone. Still, it is one of the better pure cop thrillers we have seen in awhile and definitely a step up from the likes of Street Kings.