The long shadow of ‘The Wire’ falls across the scenes set inside the East Brooklyn projects, where undercover cop Clarence Butler (Don Cheadle) is suffering an identity crisis while passing himself off as streetwise ex-con ‘Tango’, right-hand man to drug kingpin Casanova ‘Caz’ Phillips (Wesley Snipes). Self-loathing narcotics cop Sal (Ethan Hawke) is wrestling with his Catholic conscience, considering stealing drug-bust money to make a down payment on the dream house he’s promised his careworn pregnant wife, Angela (Lili Taylor), and their kids. After 22 time-serving years on the street, alcoholic beat cop Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere) is one week away from retirement, but has been forced to babysit a wide-eyed rookie in one of the city’s most dangerous districts.
Made for a modest $17 million, Fuqua’s gritty character study offers a surprisingly intimate portrait of the three doomed cops who have sacrificed much to serve and protect the citizens of the crime-ridden projects and received precious little money or respect in return. Nevertheless, a well-directed cast, which also includes Will Patton and Ellen Barkin – as well as Hassan Iniko Johnson and Michael K Williams, who played Wee-Bay and Omar in ‘The Wire’ – can only breathe so much new life into the hackneyed story elements.