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Pride and Glory (2008) Print E-mail
Friday, 24 October 2008
“Pride and Glory” was made with sincerity and some skill, particularly in cinematography (by Declan Quinn), but overlength and overfamiliarity damage what could have been a decent movie. The good cast can’t make headway against a confusing, uninvolving story and a set of characters we’ve seen far too often already. It’s especially similar to “We Own the Night” of a few years ago, but its mix of honest and crooked cops, several of whom are related by family ties, is commonplace and unoriginal.

The director is Gavin O’Connor; he also cowrote the script with Joe Carnahan from a screen story by O’Connor, his twin brother Greg (who produces) and Robert Hopes. The O’Connor twins are the sons of a cop; it feels almost like an apology to their family for not being cops themselves. The story wouldn’t feel as muddled as it does if it had explained earlier why there’s bad feeling between detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton), his brother Francis (Noah Emmerich), head of a precinct house, and their father, chief of Manhattan detectives Francis Sr. (Jon Voight). Squad leater Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell), working under Francis Jr., is married to a Tierney sister, Abby (Jennifer Ehle), who seems to be slowly dying of cancer. That would seem to provide some motivation for Francis Jr., but this, too, remains confusingly unexplored.

The story opens as four Manhattan cops, on a drug dealer raid, are unexpectedly killed. One of them was Ray’s close friend, so Francis Sr. is able to talk his reluctant son into joining the task force created (off-screen) to track down the killer or killers of the cops. Jimmy and his team continue on their own; when they find a car used by the killer to escape the murder scene, surprisingly enough, they burn it to a cinder. This unexpected act seems at first to be confusing and as unexplained as other story elements, but eventually we understand the arson—if we even remember it.

The movie keeps tossing in elements it doesn’t really deal with. For example, Ray is living on his father’s pleasure boat; he’s separated from his wife Tasha (Carmen Ejogo), but we never know why. In the course of his investigation, he notices that one of the drug dealers killed in the raid (how many? We never know) had no laces in his boot and had no belt. Ray thinks he knows why—but he doesn’t tell us. Was the guy released from prison recently? Maybe—but why is that important? This detail simply disappears from the story.

The movie is set during the Christmas holidays, probably just to increase the contrast between the murders and the trail of police corruption that Ray begins to trace. It does provide for a noisy family dinner at the home of Franny (as Francis Jr. is called) and Abby, with very realistically-depicted little kids. The production design by Dan Leigh is unfussy but convincing.
Sometimes the story lurches toward brutality—to the audience. Jimmy and one of his thugs/cops bursts into the home of a Puerto Rican family during their own Christmas dinner, smashes the place up and bashes in the face of a man who may know where Tezo (Romon Rodriguez), the killer of the cops, is hiding out. The near torture of this man produces nothing, so Jimmy threatens to blister the face of a baby in arms with a steam iron. This is a hard scene to watch, and seems to be in the movie solely to underscore the distance between Jimmy and good cops.

The movie is awkwardly structured. The main plot of the first half of the film comes to a halt with the outright murder of a suspect in custody; too much time is spent on what happens after that—the movie is broken in the middle and doesn’t heal. In what may have been the interests of authenticity, the movie doesn’t offer many explanations along the way, and there’s a lot of police jargon tossed about. We should have seen more interactions between the brothers and brother-in-law Jimmy and probably less of Francis Sr., who’s occasionally drunk. We never really know what the younger men feel about each other, or how they regard their positions as cops—and that’s the real meat of the story.

On the other hand, Norton, Farrell and Emmerich all give solid, believable performances; it’s especially interesting seeing Emmerich, who’s usually a semi-bad guy, more or less on the side of the angels. (Although the film might have been better served had he and Farrell switched roles.) Voight’s performance has very little shading; he relies too much on his patented wide-eyed stare. When an actor’s silvery hair is more interesting than his face, something’s wrong.

The dialogue is often simply terrible; “you’re FAMILY” is as creative as it gets. However, at other times, it can hit the mark. Just before he kills himself, a repentant cop sighs “I was a good man once.” The movie needed more of that; instead, we see corrupt cops merely being corrupt—we see two partners from time to time (John Ortiz and Frank Grillo) who do nothing other than be bullies and tyrants with badges. Don’t they have families too? It’s not the fault of the actors, it’s the script.

The film strongly evokes wintry Manhattan’s mean streets—you can practically feel the chill. But it fails to find an element for viewers to latch onto, to feel that “now THIS is the story to follow” or “THIS is the character at the center of things.” For a while, this seems to be Ray, but he’s offscreen for surprisingly long stretches. The story was the unraveling of the deaths of the four cops, but then it’s Ray close on the heels of dirty cops, led by Jimmy. The movie would have been better served with a sharper, closer focus on everything it deals with.

Most viewers will just let the movie wash over them. It’s a cop crime movie with bursts of action; it has attractive people at the center, and there’s plenty of profanity for those who consider that a mark of realism. The acting is mostly of a reasonably high quality, although at times Farrell seems disconnected from his role. Given the storyline, it’s not likely that even at its best “Pride and Glory” could have risen very far above the standard cop-family movie. Ultimately, it just is what it is; it’s technically well-made, it’s sincere and earnest, but without originality or any strong reason to see it.

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