Pride and Glory
When good cop movies go bad
Pride and Glory
Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Cast: Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight
To give Gavin O’Connor (director of the 2004 feel-good hockey film Miracle) some credit, at least his first attempt at an epic, NYC-centric crime drama doesn’t waste its runtime trying to replicate the work of Martin Scorsese. No, for his inspiration, O’Connor chooses the slightly less ethnographic work of Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Q&A, Night Falls on Manhattan). For the average viewer, it’s a negligible difference. But well-studied students of inner-city crime cinema might at least appreciate the fact that Pride and Glory isn’t just another Scorsese knockoff. (Little Odessa, The Yards and We Own the Night director James Gray, I’m looking at you.)
It’s a cold December day in New York and four members of Coney Island’s 31st Precinct have just been killed in a bloody shootout. The dead cops were all under the command of stalwart, second-generation cop Francis Tierney Jr. (Noah Emmerich); close friends with his emotionally and physically scarred brother Ray Tierney (Edward Norton); and colleagues to Francis’ golden boy brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). This blood-and-marriage family of boys in blue is lorded over by high-ranking police official Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight, rounding out an impressive cast), who urges his three “sons” to find the missing cop killer toot sweet. Ray, who has left street duty for a desk job following a largely undetailed incident in his past, needs the most convincing. Spurred by his dad’s loyalty speeches, Ray agrees--somewhat reluctantly--to head up the investigation.
It isn’t long before Ray’s worst fears are realized. From the looks of it, the four murdered officers were dirty cops, killed while shaking down a notorious drug dealer. Worse still, they worked closely with Jimmy Egan, who may or may not be trying to cover up their tracks.
Dirty cop sagas are nothing new. (Lumet minted the modern genre in 1973 with Serpico.) Co-written by Joe Carnahan (of Smokin’ Aces infamy), Pride and Glory strives for gritty, hard-hitting, on-the-street authenticity. The cop-speak sounds accurate. The settings seem lived-in. The film is so dark, tonally as well as visually, the entire affair looks like it was shot during a solar eclipse. In other words, it looks and feels right. But something is off.
Mostly, it’s the script, which takes at least 30 minutes of frantic action, untranslated Spanish and a determined lack of exposition to even sort out the relationships between characters. (Oh, Farrell is Norton’s brother-in-law!) As time goes on, the story spreads its time between so many characters that everyone on screen feels like a supporting player. O’Connor and Carnahan give their characters all sorts of juicy backstory to chew on. Ray’s in the middle of an uncomfortable divorce. Francis’ wife is dying of cancer. These emotional, kitchen-sink subplots layer on the drama like nobody’s business, but just end up distracting from the story at hand. Scenes of poor Mrs. Tierney (Brit Jennifer Ehle) weeping over her sleeping childrens’ beds is fine acting, but it’s got nothing to do with the quartet of dead cops that got us into this mess in the first place.
At around 125 minutes, Pride and Glory feels epic, but undisciplined. There are moments when the film breathes a brutal fire. (Farrell’s attempts to get info from a reluctant informant are a horrific highlight.) There are also moments when it’s laughably overwrought. (Farrell and Norton’s final tête-à-tête is a misplaced display of machismo straight out of The Quiet Man.) If you’re a big fan of the good cop/bad cop genre, Pride and Glory puts on a show. But even a solid cast, a somber mood and a straight face can’t keep this from being just another familiar exercise in men-with-guns cinema.