After a ho-hum debut with 1998's 'The Replacement Killers', director Antoine Fuqua made the world sit up and take notice with 2001's 'Training Day', a day-in-the-life cop movie that gave Denzel Washington an Oscar, Ethan Hawke a lot more male admirers and Los Angeles one of its most vivid depictions this side of Michael Mann's 'Heat'. Since then Fuqua's lost his way a bit with war stories ('Tears of the Sun'), historical adventures ('King Arthur') and action movies ('Shooter'), and with each grew the feeling that he'd never get close to the intensity, character-depth and moral maze of 'Training Day' again. Well, now he has.

Switching coasts to New York and set over eight days as opposed to 'Training Day's one, 'Brooklyn's Finest' tells the stories of three very different lawmen. Patrolman Eddie Dugan (Gere) has lost his bottle, detective Sal Procida (Hawke) has lost his moral compass and the deep cover Clarence 'Tango' Butler (Cheadle) is losing his mind. As Dugan tries to make it through his last week before retirement, Procida scrambles to find money for a house deposit deadline and Butler gets word that he's to do whatever it takes to bring down the gangster (Snipes) who saved him in prison each man moves closer to their defining moment.

Those who love police thrillers and those still suffering cold turkey from the end of 'The Wire' should find something to enjoy here. Recalling that great saying about being born on a plain and dying in a forest, 'Brooklyn's Finest' is all about what people can live with, what they can't, what the badge has given and what it has taken away. And as the story progresses you realise that the prospect of things ending well is as remote as the academy graduation day photo in the three men's minds.

Making New York as much of a character as he made Los Angeles, Fuqua gives the film a dirty, sweaty feel and shows the city closing in on Dugan, Procida and Butler. Everyone's finding it harder to breathe and think 'straight', all hanging on the hope that something better and peace of mind are just around the corner. Of course we know they're not - the excitement is in watching how long they'll be able to fool themselves.

Gere gave one of his most memorable turns as the crooked cop in 'Internal Affairs'; Hawke was great as the rookie in 'Training Day' and Cheadle excelled as the DEA agent in 'Traffic' and you're reminded of all three while watching 'Brooklyn's Finest' . From the clothes to the way they carry themselves and find their own individual mix of defeat, defiance and desperation, it's a pleasure to watch archetypes become something more in their performances. And while some will feel that Fuqua should have either focussed on one character for the whole film or had them all in scenes together, the trio's work here rates with the best on their CVs (Irish actor Brían F O'Byrne is also great in a supporting role). Let's hope that DVD commentaries were part of the deal.

The best days of the characters here are behind them; on this evidence Fuqua has more to come.

Harry Guerin

Listen to the 'Framerate' review of 'Brooklyn's Finest' from RTÉ Choice.