Antoine Fuqua aims high within the limitations he has for Brooklyn's Finest. By that I mean the film is fairly low-budget, or at least middle of the road (my guess is twenty million), and it was shot on location in Brooklyn and places around. He also has a script that has its share of clichés and potential pitfalls for cinematic treatment. It's surprising how well the film comes off with the elements, and they are ALL familiar: the cop just nearing retirement (Gere), on his way out, who has to shepherd a rookie through his first days on the; a corrupted cop (redundant mayhap) that is scrounging for any money he can on raids (Hawke) needs it for a slightly noble cause, a new house for his growing family; a cop undercover (Cheadle) has to choose promotion or loyalty with a criminal takedown on the horizon.
Three very recognizable types, and the tropes are there, at least on paper. But where Fuqua sets himself apart, as he did to a good if not great extent on Training Day, is to imbue importance (not pretentious but just enough for serious effect) in the direction of scenes, and in casting. The actors take material that could be trite and unconvincing and even stale post-Lumet-cop-movie stuff and make it their own, compelling and heartfelt, and true to the extent that the genre allows. There's real tragedy felt with Hawke's character, albeit he may overact just a bit in some scenes, since this corrupt cop wouldn't be so bad if he could get what he needs ("I don't want God's forgiveness, I want his help," he says in confession), and likewise real conflict with Cheadle's undercover, who has been embedded too long in the trenches, and wants to help the criminal who once saved his life (Wesley Snipes fantastic in an older, slightly wiser version of his character in New Jack City).
And then there's Gere. One almost forgets Gere's successes when he's starring in romantic-comedy junk like... well, what's he been in recently for starters. But then one looks at Unfaithful, Days of Heaven, The Hoax, I'm Not There, among some others, and one sees Gere is an underrated presence, a guy who when given material to shine in does very well as an everyman, more than just a typical pretty star. With his role as the on-his-way-out cop, he gives one of his best performances, worn and weary, but strong and good as a cop whenever he can see fit, who at one point makes a mistake that he won't cop to (watch Gere when he's interrogated about his rookie's mishap on a convenience store scuffle and it's something of genius work). It's intense and believable, and even tender and sorrowful work, like when Gere's character is around a prostitute he's fallen for.
Back to Fuqua though - this is a filmmaker who knows what he's working in, and wants to transcend it. Perhaps his idol for this kind of production was Sidney Lumet with his cop films: make something dramatic and tragic, and never lose the grit, but add panache with the directing. He knows the conventions and has to stick to them, sometimes for weaker or just expected effect. But watching his style in that last reel, when all three stories that have been going back and forth (ocassionally intertwined) come together at one project building. There's a scene where Hawke is personally raiding a place. Watch the camera in this scene, where it stays put in one spot for seemingly a minute. It could almost be a Tarantino move, something self-conscious but purposeful for the action, the psychology of the emotion of the scene. His work with better material would be astonishing. As it is, it's just good, inventive film-making.