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dir Antoine Fuqua
scr Michael C Martin
prd Elie Cohn, Basil Iwanyk, John Langley, Avi Lerner, John Thompson
with Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Vincent D'Onofrio, Will Patton, Lili Taylor, Ellen Barkin, Michael Kenneth Williams, Brian F O'Byrne, Shannon Kane, Wass Stevens
release US 5.Mar.10, UK 4.Jun.10
In too deep: Cheadle and Snipes
VENICE FILM FEST
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
This darkly shaded cop drama has an effectively moody tone, although it never feels any more gritty or realistic than a TV series. And despite solid acting, the plot feels both contrived and rather lethargic.
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.
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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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