Brooklyn’s Finest is not a perfect movie. I will go into this more in my review tomorrow, but it’s a good movie. It’s a tough movie, a bleak one. It’s also one that showcases a different shade of director Antoine Fuqua, who hit a grand slam with the riveting Training Day and followed it up with lesser movies like Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, and Shooter. It’s not a return to form, because it’s almost like the flip side of the Denzel Washington classic (and it is a classic). It’s raw and difficult and enjoys the shades of gray so intensely I can see why it found it challenging finding its way to theaters.
I also really dug it and found it to be a soulmate to a lot of the crime films that defined my taste. I was lucky enough to have a chunk of time to speak with Fuqua about the film and we covered a nice gamut of topics.
Nick Nunziata: How the hell do you make a movie like Brooklyn’s Finest today where everybody wants glossy and super polished and half the shows on television being police procedurals?
Antoine Fuqua: Man. Obviously I had to do it for a price. I had to have final cut. It was part of the deal or I wouldn’t do the movie. I just had to take control of the movie and do it my way. Just like in Training Day. I had to go up into the real neighborhoods and real places. I wouldn’t compromise on it or I’d not have done it at all. I grew up on those type of movies too. I didn’t take much money on this film so I could do it this way.
Nick Nunziata: You obviously had final cut. Because that is not a studio ending.
Antoine Fuqua: Far from that. If it was a studio ending everyone would have walked away.
Nick Nunziata: It’s a studio ending in the 70’s.
Antoine Fuqua: Exactly. That was the idea, to do it that way.
Nick Nunziata: Sometimes movies like this have to fall through the cracks or sneak their way out but you have four very diverse leading actors here. Four very diverse kind of acting styles. Seeing them onscreen together was interesting. How did you juggle four very different actors and ones with very distinct personalities?
Antoine Fuqua: You know what, it was a really good experience. Once everyone says ‘yes’ and you go through that process you kind of sit back and go ‘whew, now I have to deal with all these personalities’. I already knew Ethan and knew he was a great guy but you never know. These guys are professionals and they’re all great. We had a lot of fun. We had an A-list squad together who’s bringing their A-game together. They know the other guys are going to do that. The competition kicks in, in a positive way. They all know they’re going to be on the screen playing opposite Don Cheadle or Wesley Snipes or Richard Gere or Ethan Hawke. A lot of that competition was more of a positive. The actors were great, respectful. The hardest thing I had was keeping my head straight. I’d finish with Ethan and I’d say ‘cut, Ethan that’s a wrap, thanks for the day’ and then Don Cheadle is walking through the door and I have to get my mind into a whole new mindset. The hardest part was me keeping my head straight.
Nick Nunziata: It’s so easy for a film like this to fall into stereotypes. I was so glad that Snipes wasn’t playing Nino Brown again. I was seeing a new side of Don Cheadle, an explosiveness and the subtleties of living a dual life. It’s a testament to the work.
Antoine Fuqua:We talked a lot about that and that’s why I cast them. I was much more interested in the vulnerable side than the tough guy side. That stuff is superficial. The hardest thing for anybody is to be vulnerable and weak and admit to that and be lost. All those things. I asked that of Don and of Richard and Ethan and Wesley. That pressure that they’re under and what it does to you. You reach a breaking point. They’ve vulnerable, when you’re at your weakest.
Nick Nunziata: I found myself wanting more time with these characters. Is there a longer cut that this we may see?
Antoine Fuqua:There’s a longer cut. Wesley and Don, two or three scenes that aren’t in it. Two or three with Ethan and his wife. Some with him and Ronnie on surveillance. Scenes with Richard and the girl, Richard and his wife. It became one of those things where the momentum would slow down when you were away from each guy for too long. That became a bit of an issue. You put those scenes in you’ve been away from those guys too long. By the time you come back to the other story you’re catching up again. I really wanted it to almost feel like there were one guy,that’s why sometimes I’d cut from one guy’s face directly to another guy’s face. Keep the pressure on them. I feel like if I stopped it took the pressure off and if they talked too much to other people about the issues it didn’t have the same intensity. The secrets they kept is what kept it going.
Nick Nunziata: I kind of wish that freedom of time wasn’t so different now that it was in the 70’s, where you get those little moments. It was all about the little moments and character stuff. You get a lot of that here in this cut and I was soaking it up but a Prince of the City length cut wouldn’t bother me at all.
Antoine Fuqua:I love the longer cut, man. Prince of the City, you watch that movie you see so many great moments like when he starts to cry when he’s in that apartment with that guy and he’s talking about how ‘nobody cares about me except cops, cops are like family’. There are some great moments in those movies. Nowadays they’d cut that stuff.
Nick Nunziata: Absolutely.
Antoine Fuqua: They’d say it’s melodramatic. Basically it means they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.
Nick Nunziata: Subtlety is frowned upon. But, you’ve got a lot of great character actors in here who live on that. Guys like Michael K. Williams, Will Patton, even Ellen Barkin bringing her A-game. I’m sure you’ve seen The Wire and a few of those actors are here but but how much fun did you have filling the margins with all of these great people?
Antoine Fuqua: It was great. I total creative control. It was one of those things where I sat down and went through the script with my main actors first and got them locked up. Once I got them I looked at the guys from The Wire. Talented guys who really don’t get the recognition they deserve. They’re from Brooklyn, some of them. So I said I was putting them in the movie. Luckily they fit the roles. Ellen Barkin’s a friend. We wanted to work together. Her role was written for a man. I changed it because she’s so tough. She can do it as good as any man if not better. It didn’t want this just to be about men being in control and having the power. She’s the administration. I had my way at it, man. Will Patton, I’ve been wanting to work with him since I saw No Way Out. On and on and on. I was having a good time doing that.
Nick Nunziata: Is it a fair statement that more than any you’ve done this film is hardwired to you?
Antoine Fuqua: Yes. Exactly. I spent a couple of months up in Brooklyn before I brought my crew up just going through the neighborhood hanging with the people up there and getting my feet back on the ground. It’s definitely hardwired to me.
Nick Nunziata: You certainly don’t want those people to see the film and
feel it’s not authentic. They see so much of that stuff trivialized
already, it seems pleasing them is as important as pleasing the studio.
Antoine Fuqua: I couldn’t get any closer. I have the black eyes and bruises to prove it.
Nick Nunziata: Us websites have followed your career quite closely. Training Day was a revelation in so many ways. You’ve had the kind of career where I can’t explain exactly what an Antoine Fuqua film is. You can look over your upcoming films on IMDB but that’s often not a fair representation. Where are you going from here? What muscles do you need to flex now?
Antoine Fuqua: Well, really I really want to do an epic tale. Pablo Escobar is a movie I want to make so bad. It’s my passion thing. So bad I want to tell the story of Pablo Escobar himself. Not the killing of him, I want to tell his story from his skin. That’s really where I want to go. There’s a movie I’m attached to called Consent to Kill, which is based on Vince Flynn books. Are you familiar with that?
Nick Nunziata: Vince Flynn, yes.
Antoine Fuqua: CBS Films, I’m attached to that and it could be fun if that goes. Big. Gritty. Shoot it in Israel or Jordan and capture the authenticity of that world. Make that fun. I need to do that in order to come back and do another small one that I can control again. If I could get Escobar going I’d just go and do it. For me it really is trying to stay in my zone. I grew up watching the original Public Enemies and original Scarface. The Wild Bunch. Certain types of films, Apocalypse Now and The Godfather. I want to make movies in that genre.
Nick Nunziata: There are those movies like that, one which stick to you. Like Heat and Training Day for sure. I have it on my iPod and I will drive around and have it on, listening to it. More than I care to admit.
Antoine Fuqua: That’s cool.
Nick Nunziata: As someone who’s cynical about films, having watched so many… I’m a child of the 70’s and I know what a crime film is. When I walked out of the theater after seeing Training Day I was weak in the knees.
Antoine Fuqua: That’s big.
Nick Nunziata: That is such a rare chemical reaction to a film. The films you mentioned are the kind that never leave you and I totally feel that bloodline in what you’ve done with Brooklyn’s Finest. I know you’ve had to deal with some bumpy moments along the way in your career and I think it’s cool to see this kind of hunger in your work now.
Antoine Fuqua: That’s the thing that reminds you who you are. There was a moment in Tears of the Sun when they were attacking the village that I really cared about. The rest I really didn’t care that much about. It was the atrocities of the village that I cared most about and I wanted to make the movie more about that. You try to do those things and get beat up a little bit. Then American Gangster [story] I tried to come back to this sort of thing and do it my way. You get beat up a little bit. Then I realized, who I am is a kid who grew up watching a certain type of film about men under pressure and making the decisions, even the small ones that affect their lives in a profound way. All those movies are about guys who have to take control to get what they want in life. Something I can relate to. You have to go fight for it and sometimes you have to put a lot of your blood and sweat into it. Who am I as a filmmaker and what am I going to contribute to this business? I’m in a better space in my life where I know what that is. Training Day was the first step towards that, Brooklyn’s Finest is my second. Now trying the next thing that’s going to do that very thing as well. That’s why Pablo Escobar is so important to me because it’s in that vein but epic.
Nick Nunziata: I read Killing Pablo and that’s my entire knowledge of that story and it’s magnetic stuff, I can only imagine that his entire life is the kind of tale that would come off as something of a lock as far as utterly cinematic material.
Antoine Fuqua: It has a lot of those elements to it. I’ve been to Medellin and Bogota. Some of the real guys in Miami. I understand it. It affected my life. I grew up in those areas where most of his shit was hitting America hard. Turning into crack. I’m working hard. There’s something there that’s pulling me and I hope one day I can do it. We’ll see. Hopefully no one will beat me to it but if they do I hope they do it right.
Nick Nunziata: Would you prefer an unknown or a current leading lead to play Pablo?
Antoine Fuqua: I would love for Benicio and Javier. Those are the two guys.
Nick Nunziata: It’s not like you can cast just anybody.
Antoine Fuqua: If it’s not them I rather go with an unknown.
Nick Nunziata: Ethan Hawke was a revelation in The Dead Poets Society and he’s done a lot of great movies but Training Day took it to a new level, especially in buying him as a grown man. What did you see in him that brings out the best in him, that made you want to share with the world in that movie?
Antoine Fuqua: Ethan’s a great guy. An incredible artist and incredible actor. He’s all about the art. The real thing. I saw Ethan on The Tonight Show promoting Hamlet when I was casting Training Day and I said ‘That’s the guy, that’s Jake’. I sat down with Ethan for four hours. We didn’t even talk the movie and I felt, there’s so much in this guy that hasn’t been tapped. Not even been touched or scratched. I cracked jokes that he was a man-child. Just becoming a man but with a little milk behind his ears so he was perfect for Training Day. In this movie he’s a fully grown man. That’s how I see Ethan. He’s constantly getting better and stronger and it’s kind of crazy for me because I try to push him on everything in Hollywood. Sometimes they push back when when it comes to the big 100 million dollar movies and I’m going ‘he’s so fucking good’. He’s the real thing.
Nick Nunziata: The opening scene with him and D’Onofrio in the car. The quality of performance and accents. I’d never had guessed it was those two actors. Ethan is vicious. So strong in this movie.
Antoine Fuqua: He’s something special. It’s tough. I watch other directors who have their ‘guy’. Scorsese obviously with DeNiro and now Leonardo. Directors, if you’re lucky… you find these guys you have an affection for, an understanding of. You want to see them win and you know they can deliver. You just want to hang on tight to each other. I’m trying to do that with Ethan. As much as I can. Obviously we’re in a business where they look at box office numbers right away and they dismiss the guy. That just kills me. Years go by and we age. Ethan has children, I have children. When we did Training Day I had a full head of hair, now I’m bald-headed. You see each other aging and you’re like ‘fuck, I don’t want life to go by without being able to work with the great artists like that’. It brings the best out of me too.
Nick Nunziata: It seems like you have to be on your toes every day with these guys.
Antoine Fuqua: Every day. But it’s great. If you’re not ready you’re going to have a rough day. I prepare and prepare and then prepare again. I spend a lot of time talking with these guys talking about everything, I mean deep. The spiritual layer, psychological layer. Everything. You have to with guys like that. They have to know you’re in control. If they don’t believe how do you get the best out of that sort of talent?
Brooklyn’s Finest hits theaters today!