The dark, gritty and brutally urban new movie, “Brooklyn’s Finest,” was brought to the big screen by one of Pittsburgh’s finest, director and executive producer, Antoine Fuqua.
“Brooklyn’s Finest,” an intense story that disjointedly chronicles the lives of three Brooklyn police officers comes alive with an ensemble cast of heavyweight actors, including Richard Gere who plays Eddie, a disillusioned, burnt-out, veteran cop who is into his last week on the job before retirement. He’s become jaded and complacent, almost numbed by all he has witnessed in his many years on the job. He just wants to end his law enforcement career without waves.
Then there’s Don Cheadle as Tango, an undercover narc who has reached the limit dealing with thugs and the game, but keeps getting the run- around from his superiors about getting out. And Ethan Hawke, who plays Sal the cop who is just trying to do for his growing family and sickly wife. Under enormous financial strain, he just wants to provide, all while dealing with the grime and crime on the Brooklyn streets.
The movie’s tone and premise is set in the opening scene as actor Vincent D’Onofrio tells Ethan Hawke’s character that there is no more right or wrong, just “righter and wronger.” People can do the wrong things for the right reasons. However, Fuqua said it’s not as black and white as that. “No matter what, you can’t just go doing the wrong things, just because you have a good reason. You certainly can’t just go taking human lives because you are desperate,” he said.
Shot on location in and around the Van Dyke projects in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, the film displays the authenticity of the desperation and mental chaos that can plague police officers in any city. Fuqua believes in using real locations when possible. “It helps me creatively be in the world,” Fuqua said. “It helps the actors really smell it, walk it and be it every day.”
As active participants in the community, the production company employed local community members whenever possible. This is actually how Fuqua got started in the business. It was during a film production in his childhood neighborhood when his interest in filmmaking was piqued. Permitted to hang out on set, Fuqua got a taste of Hollywood in the making. He began paying this back while filming “Training Day” in Los Angeles, allowing young people to be on set and hiring locals, and continues to do so.
“When I’m doing a film that deals directly with a community, I like having residents around; I utilize their energy for inspiration. They are often times the victims in these situations when police officers make bad decisions. Sometimes they are deadly decisions, and most of the time we witness the outcome of these bad decisions in these neighborhoods.” Fuqua said no one really questions the psychological or economical factors contributing to that decision. The underlying pressures that any individual may be facing, especially a police officer during intense, adrenaline-rushing circumstances, are not always known.
The project for Fuqua is a spiritual story, reminding him of the biblical account of Job. “That’s why it starts off in the graveyard with the question: ‘How many good men are left?’ Normally, when you think of people in professions who serve those who walk a hard path, like police officers, or priests, there is always room for bad choices because of all the pressure on them, according to Fuqua. “This is the hell that many of these cops witness every day. It’s dark, and it’s dreary, and visual, that’s the way it feels. I had to transfer this onto the screen. The constant in the lives of these officers is a moral dilemma, Fuqua said. “Can you get home every day with your morals intact, while you are about to lose your home because you don’t make enough money? Or even though you’ve seen the worst of mankind, can you not help the person next to you? Or what happens when you get so close to the game that you become lost and you don’t even know who you are?”
Passionate about the psychological effects of the challenges police officers face daily in the line of duty, Fuqua makes sure to bring this out in the film. “It’s a tough movie, it’s not a light subject matter, but I care about the subject, and I did a lot of homework,” Fuqua said. “This is New York City, there are 45,000 police officers; that’s larger than a lot of small countries military forces. Yet, there are only about 150 psych doctors allotted to treat this amount of officers, it’s crazy.”
Fuqua said while the movie was in production, an article came out in The New York Times that stated that more police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty. “It seems that no one really cares about this. During the making of the movie, I was so taken by this information, coupled with the fact that a good friend of mine, who was a DEA agent had taken his own life, I wanted say something about that,” he said. “This is the path these guys are on, and if we don’t do something to try and help, these are the results.”
Fuqua added that while police offers put themselves on the line daily and for low wages, they have little support to deal with the issues and circumstances they face every day. He said in most cases the mental health services available to law enforcement is not equipped to deal with the trauma that these officers deal with involving shoot-outs and other gritty crimes. “The best therapy they have is going to the bar and sitting around and talking among themselves,” Fuqua said. “They may be fearful of the repercussions if they approach administration with their issues,” While researching for the movie, Fuqua realized how much these guys really need help. “This is a recipe for disaster,” he added.
The movie’s ending deals with the choices the officers have made and the consequences of those choices as well as redemption, specifically for Gere’s character. But this wasn’t Fuqua’s original vision for the ending. He said he decided to change the ending showing that if a person goes to the belly of the beast and ends up doing the right thing, then there’s redemption in that. “A person deserves a second chance to walk away and that’s why it ended as it did,” he said.
A graduate of Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, Fuqua said he gets back to his hometown about once a year, and he’s a die-hard Steelers fan. With all the movie productions taking place in Pittsburgh, Fuqua said he’d be open to doing a film here as soon as the right project comes along that makes sense for the Pittsburgh environment.
For Fuqua, the best thing about directing is the opportunity to work with great talent and connecting with the audience. “I love being in a theater as an audience member, and watching people respond to the work. They have no idea about the secrets and why I did this or that, they are just enjoying what you put up there. That’s an amazing experience. But it’s also a double-edge sword because when they don’t like it, that’s not fun…that’s when you sneak out the theater.”
The supporting cast in the movie are just as powerful as its main stars. Wesley Snipes returns to the big screen as Caz, the long-time drug kingpin to whom Cheadle feels indebted. “Antoine is an intense cat,” Snipes said. “That’s why his movies are so intense. He has a clear vision of the direction he’s going. But he’s always open to creative suggestions that come from talented people working together to make magic.” Ellen Barkin plays the tough-talking special agent who goes toe-to-toe with Cheadle in one riveting scene. The film also welcomes big screen newcomer Shannon Kane of the ABC soap, “All My Children.”
Fuqua’s future projects include directing the new Vince Flynn movie based on the novel, “Consent to Kill.” He initially made his mark directing award-winning music videos such as Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” He remains one of the industries most sought after music video directors, having done videos for Stevie Wonder, Toni Braxton, Prince, Heavy D, Usher and Arrested Development. Fuqua also directed commercials for Armani, Nike (Jordan Brand), Reebok and GMC.
He produces and directs projects under his own banner, Fuqua Films.