This is a view of New York missing from most visitors trips, no Central park or Fifth avenue locations, we are in the Projects and it doesn’t get more real than this, at least not on screen.
Of course to make it real, it needs to be foul mouthed & violent, the film is both and has an especially high body count. We also need great actors, and fortunately Fuqua has assembled a great cast. Washed up veteran Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere), undercover cop Tango (Don Cheadle) and gangster friend Casanova (Wesley Snipes) and finally “dirty”, for all the right reasons, Sal (Ethan Hawke). Ellen Barkin and Will Patton also fill out the supporting parts.
The three stories are not essentially interlocking but happening simultaneously, with most of the actors sharing little or no screen time together.
Gere always underrated, plays a cop who is essentially a walking time bomb. Fine on the outside but ready to shoot anyone including himself, due to an intense self loathing for the man he has become. Reliant on a 20 year old hooker for comfort, seven days from retirement when maybe, just maybe, he can put his soul back together and find some redemption.
Cheadle undercover since being in prison is rapidly going native, siding with his gangster buddies more than the police brass, who distort and spin every event to protect the NYPD name. Desperately wanting to claim his life back, even he realizes he may have gone too deep to come back. Snipes also puts in some good work here and it’s good to see him back on screen in a cinema release rather than DTV fodder.
Finally and perhaps the strongest segment, Hawkes looking somewhat emaciated, is struggling to get the house not only he deserves but needs, due to health issues for his family. Obtaining that on a police salary is not happening but there is always plenty of drug money lying around that no one will miss. Of course once you cross that line there is no coming back, the deal with the devil is done.
All actors, including the supporting cast are believable and the location settings give the whole film a real down and dirty reality. Fuqua keeps the stories moving and there is almost a Shakespearean feeling of inevitable tragedy running like a thread through the movie. The director pointedly looking for the heart and humanity in each fatally flawed character. They maybe bad but you do care about the people, which is a rarity in this genre
The swearing, sex and violence, none which feels excessive in context, will keep some audiences away. A pity as this is a great story highlighting the unseen pressures and choices big city street cops may face everyday.
An intelligent, gritty cop thriller with action and dialogue to stand with the best but with a beating heart of humanity within the chaos.
Not quite packing the impact of “Training Day” but recommended nonetheless