Three Brooklyn cops are confronting moral dilemmas on the job. Eddie (Gere) is a week away from retirement when he's asked to help a couple of rookies learn the ropes. But he'd rather just keep his head down. Tango (Cheadle) is deep undercover in a drug sting, threatened by a tough FBI agent (Barkin) to set up his childhood friend (Snipes). And Sal (Hawke) is looking to steal some drug-bust cash to top up his salary so he can look after his pregnant wife (Taylor) and children.
These three cops never meet on screen, although their stories brush against each other in the final act. But the themes do link together, looking at the ethical choices these men make in their everyday lives. In this sense, the film isn't particularly complex: they are three distinct types (the jaded veteran, the detective who's losing his identity, the desperate working man) in stories that are loaded with sermonising.
And even though television series have more depth and complexity (from Hill Street Blues to The Wire), the cast is solid enough to keep us engaged. Gere has a superb burnt-out quality as a cynic who still has a glimmer of decency inside; Cheadle is quietly layered as an on-edge stuck in a nasty situation; Hawke is especially riveting as the frazzled husband forced into a corner. And the side roles are punchy as well, most notably Snipes' soulful gangster and Barkin's almost thuggish bully.
So it's a shame that director Fuqua can't muster up more dramatic momentum. He effectively keeps the film gurgling dramatically to the climactic bloodbath, but never draws out the emotional resonance, even in the two male-female relationships. The film's message seems to be that a policeman's life is hard, you can't take justice into your own hands, and if you cross a moral line you'll pay for it in one way or another. Which isn't exactly a revelation.
Run time: 132 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th March 2010
Box Office USA: $26.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $29.5M
Distributed by: Overture Films
Production compaines: Thunder Road Productions, Millennium Films, Nu Image Films, Langley Productions, Fuqua Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Fresh: 62 Rotten: 83
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenwriter: Michael C. Martin
Starring: Richard Gere as Eddie Dugan, Don Cheadle as Tango, Ethan Hawke as Sal, Wesley Snipes as Caz, Vincent D'Onofrio as Bobby 'Carlo' Powers, Ellen Barkin as Agent Smith, Michael K. Williams as Red, Shannon Kane as Chantel, Brían F. O'Byrne as Ronny Rosario, Will Patton as Lt. Bill Hobarts, Michael K. Williams as Red, Lili Taylor as Angela, Wass Stevens as Det. Patrick Leary, Armando Riesco as Det. George Montress, Wade Allain-Marcus as C-Rayz, Logan Marshall-Green as Melvin Panton, Jesse Williams as E. Quinlan, Hassan Johnson as Beamer, Jas Anderson as K. Rock, John D'Leo as Vinny