Uneven family cop drama now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Not to get too theoretical, and not to oversimplify, but in most cases genre pieces qualify for their genre by exhibiting or implying a certain amount of elements that are recognized as elements, or “forms,” of the genre in question. Identifying these elements, sometimes called “tropes,” is for movie critics and fans often simply an act of intuition. There are also cases where a film carries so many tropes that they’re unmistakably part of their genre and nothing else. By extension, it’s possible to theorize that a film that carries more tropes than any other might be said to be the “most” of its genre.
On that basis, Pride and Glory ought to be recognized as the ultimate family-of-Irish-American-New York-cops-in-moral-quandary genre film. Except there’s a giant difference between “done” and “done well,” and the film manages to successfully pull off almost none of its elements, though pretty much each one evokes memories of better films where they were used with greater grace and less amateurish abandon. A loud, copying, and unconvincing movie with no real point except its own bombast, its combined effect isn’t just bad – it’s actually a discredit to the genre to which it aspires.
Edward Norton plays Ray Tierney, a NYPD detective lying low in the Missing Persons division because of a sketchily drawn episode two years in his past (The audience is never told exactly what.) When four detectives in the department’s 31rst Precinct – captained by his brother Frances (Noah Emmerich) – are killed in an arrest gone awry, Ray’s father (Jon Voight) demands Ray join the task force assigned to swiftly catch the drug dealer (Ramon Rodriguez) believed responsible. But the investigation, through a series of coincidences and scenes apparently intended to give the cast something to act about, quickly expands to include the family’s brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell) and his three squadmates.
What ensues is the kind of plot that’s not so much a story as an amalgamation of other stories blended together without regard for structure. There’s betrayal, and murder, and of course innocent people caught in the middle. But Gavin O’Connor’s (Miracle) direction puts one scene right after the other with little in the way of mounting suspense: one thing happens and then another and another. The plotline is straightforward, even if the tension is thin. And with a 125-minute run time, there’s a lot of scenes, many of which mostly contain people staring laser beams into one another or swearing as if vulgarity was getting outlawed the next morning. Ray and Jimmy’s final confrontation in a deserted Irish bar is laughably forced, as is Jimmy’s death at the hands of an angry mob minutes later.
One thin sliver of beauty arrives about halfway through, when Francis presents his dying wife with a Gaelic band promising “love eternal.” It’s a sweet scene, played expertly and without bathos by Emmerich and actress Jennifer Ehle, that detracts from the rote events happening elsewhere in the plot. In fact, coupled with a later scene of Francis defusing a hostage situation, you might wish the movie was about Francis and starred Emmerich’s perfectly-tuned performance, instead of Norton’s and Farrell’s faux macho histrionics. Emmerich (The Truman Show, Beautiful Girls) has made a career of playing non confrontational beta male types; his performance here is a revealing breath of fresh, unmannered air.
As for the stars, Norton’s performance is no more and no less than adequate to the task at hand. By this point in his career he’s forged a definite screen persona, made from equal parts of his turns in American History X and Fight Club, and now he’s beginning to stick by it. Farrell possibly took the part of Jimmy as an opportunity to play a bad guy; but why, then, is so much of his performance a weird, half-hearted Robert DeNiro impression? Farrell has also become the kind of movie star, it seems, that HAS to have a redemptive death, even when playing the heavy. It also doesn’t help that at least one scene seems shunted into the script by O’Connor and co-writer Joe Carnahan (Narc) in order to give Farrell more screen time. Voight, who should know something about difficult children himself, brings a definite weight to his scenes as the bewildered father, even if his dialogue is relegated to standard plot-facilitating exposition: “I want you on this task force!”; “He was always the thinker, always solving problems.”
I talked a lot at the start of this review about derivation and influence, and to close I’d like to recommend seven films whose influence on Pride And Glory was palpable and immediately obvious. Watching any of these – or watching them all – is certain to be a more rewarding use of time. They’re in no particular order, though I’ve listed three of Sidney Lumet’s films first, for obvious reasons: Serpico (1973); Night Falls On Manhattan (1997); Prince of the City (1981); Fort Apache: The Bronx (1981); Assault On Precinct 13 (1976); Force of Evil (1947); Monument Avenue (1998). I’m sure there’s more, but these came to mind first. And though it’s too contemporaneous to really act as an influence, the far superior We Own The Night, directed by James Gray (Little Odessa), used many of the same forms and the same influences to startling, virtuoso effect. Actually one of 2006′s best dramas, it’s worth looking at just for its own sake.