The director Antoine Fuqua takes a classic cinema structure - three separate stories that eventually interlock - to the streets of Brooklyn. But he somehow forgets that the uniting moment should be the best scene in the movie, not the worst. This is the crime that befalls this police drama, which is heavy on atmosphere and light on nuance.
Three police officers all operate within the grey area of the law, where upholding justice and personal interests are uncomfortable bedfellows. Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a narcotics officer who has taken to stealing from criminals and crime scenes to get enough money to provide a home suitable for his pregnant wife (Lili Taylor). The house they currently live in with their seven children has mould in the wall that could cause her to have a life-threatening asthma attack at any moment. Consequently, Sal gets angry when crime isn't being committed, as becomes apparent when he searches a mugger's backpack.
Meanwhile, Tango (Don Cheadle) is working undercover in the drugs trade. He is upset when he has to set a dealer up in a sting operation in order to net a promotion. Wesley Snipes as the dealer trying to go straight after prison and Ellen Barkin as the police honcho looking for a promotion both make excellent cameos as Tango must decide whether friendship means more to him than his career. The final piece in the jigsaw sees Richard Gere playing that other favourite cliché of American police movies; the officer who only has one week before retirement. He's a mixture of Lethal Weapon's two main characters, Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh and he's not happy about the steady line of rookie cops he has to partner. Fuqua's favourite subject, as he showed in Training Day, is the relationship between master and servant, but here it's slanted too heavily in Gere's favour because all of his young partners are entirely vacuous.
The conundrums and especially the human drama contained in each of these stories are too obviously drawn for them to appear anything but trite. Yet Fuqua, through his trademark violence and ability to ramp up tension in every scene, ensures that there is always something interesting to watch on screen as the action rolls quickly from one cliché to another. The acting is fine, with Hawke playing against type and Gere giving his in an underwritten role.
Yet the payoff comes at the high price of bad plotting: huge explanations and coincidences are required to get all the characters into the same building, where a crime is about to go down - and it seems as though Fuqua doesn't care. Just as long as it looks cool and has a hail of bullets.