Rumor has it that it's hard out there on the streets, and you'd need a fire hose to blast all the dirt off the blacktop of this intense, downbeat and-too-familiar thriller. It's the latest from director Antoine Fuqua, who specializes in building corrupt urban hellscapes filled with compromised crooks and cops with souls as gray as Scotland winters. This time he's split the focus across a whole precinct full of three-time losers, burned-out vets and jittery rookies who occasionally bump into each other on their respective paths to damnation.
Don Cheadle plays a deep undercover detective who has been running the razor's edge so long he fears his head is messed up by the game. His loyalties get pushed even harder with the early release of his old prison homey, a drug kingpin played with renewed vigor by Wesley Snipes. There are some terrific scenes between these two actors, but every time they spark, the film quick-cuts to another storyline.
One of those involves Richard Gere as a worn-down, boozy and hooker-lovin' cop who's days from retirement. He's given the job of breaking in the latest fresh meat. Back before he became the punch line to a joke about the Dali Lama, Gere was known for his intensity; we get some of that here, but his matinee face looks just a tad too moisturized for a guy on his last legs.
Meanwhile, to flip his Training Day rookie role, Ethan Hawke has the haunted, sallow-cheeked look of desperation as a narc who skims cash from raids to fund a bigger house for his ever-expanding Catholic brood. Oddly enough, Ellen Barkin has the biggest dick here; she's a ball-breaking fed ready to steamroll anyone who even dreams of getting in her way.
Fuqua pours grim on grime, with about every shot layered in depression or depravity. The thick tension weighs the movie down; we know there's tragedy brewing and bullets coming, and we're reminded of it constantly.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.