Pride and Glory **
Directed by Gavin O' Conner
Written by Joe Carnahan and Gavin O'Conner
Colin Farrell as Jimmy Egan
Edward Norton as Ray Tierney
Jon Voight as Francis Tierney, Sr.
Noah Emmerich as Francis Tierney, Jr.
Jennifer Ehle as Abby Tierney
Frank Grillo as Eddie Carbone
Lake Bell as Megan Egan
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language and brief drug content.
There is a scene in Spike Jonze's brilliant Adaptation where one of the characters pitches a script to his well known twin screenwriting brother. The story is about a cop who is hunting for a kidnapper who abducted a woman, and during the process he becomes obsessed over it. The twist is that the kidnapper, woman, and cop are all the same person thanks to a multiple personality device. During his critique on the idea, the brother states "You explore the notion that cop and criminal are two aspects of the same thing. See every cop movie for other examples of this!" "Pride and Glory" falls into the category of "every cop movie."
The familiarity of "Pride and Glory" is so strong and apparent in every frame that at times it is nearly impossible to sit back and enjoy it for what it is. This is a story whose themes have been done, whose characters have been written, and whose twists have been revealed several times before. When I know that I am about to see a film the likes of which I have experienced before, I have a general attitude towards it. While a film should generally strive for total originality, it is nearly impossible to do so. In that case, the execution matters that much more. I don't mind seeing the same story again, and I have the power to see past the cliche, as long as its a story told well. And that is where "Pride and Glory" manages to gain a few points from me.
The film revolves around a family who seems to pass down the color blue from generation to generation. The patriarch of the Tierney family is Francis, Sr., a detective who is watching his two sons Francis Jr., and Ray move up the ranks, with Francis Jr. tipped to one day make detective. Another member of the family in the force is Francis and Ray's brother-in-law Jimmy. As the film opens the four of them rush to a crime scene where four cops have been murdered, including a close friend of Ray's. As Ray begins to work on the case, investigating every lead and following up on every clue, he whittles it down to a corrupt inside job, involving some of Francis' men, and Jimmy at the very center of it all. Jimmy has been using his team to murder drug dealers and then takes their money. As crime is going down as a result, he does not see the moral problems that Ray does. And Ray is forced with the choice to reveal the truth and create a decrease in police trust, or to suppress the facts for the safety of his family and the force he grew up with.
At the center of the film are the actors, who are almost all able to take cliche-ridden characters and situations and craft mild dimensions out of them. As Ray, Edward Norton is good, despite being underwritten to the point of caricature. Ray is a typical good guy in the "cops and robbers" genre, and is even given a pointless and unfinished subplot regarding an ex-wife that he is still in love with. I've read in the past that Norton is a difficult actor to work with, and is very picky when it comes to choosing scripts, which baffles my mind why he chose this one. Colin Farrell lost some of the massive praise I lavished him with earlier in the year with In Bruges, and instead of making Jimmy somewhat realistic, he takes the easy route and plays him as obviously conflicted bad guy. His "everyman" scenes of playing with his kids and showing affection to his wife were somewhat painful to watch. The centerpiece of the performers was actually a surprise, as it comes from Noah Emmerich, a recognizable character actor who is continuing with more in-depth performances after his brilliant turn in Little Children. Although he is equipped with some convenient melodrama including the fact that his wife is dying of cancer, Emmerich does a great job with Francis Jr, and he seems to be the only actor giving it his all.
Gavin O'Conner's direction was somewhat intriquing, and I really admired the bleak look he gives to nearly all the film. The film begins a little before Christmas, with a Christmas dinner scene being the only scene of unity between the family before the spiral downward. It was smart to use the darker months of winter, post-holiday season as the setting for the bulk of the action, as the cheerfulness and welcome of winter disappears and a more bitter outlook is created. The dreary look of the film and the color tints used during the more tense scenes may seem an obvious route to go down, but O'Conner manages to make it fitting. In relation to its miserable subject matter, those who enjoy dark visuals will think "Pride and Glory" is a beautiful film to look at. I could have lived without some of the shaky camera used during the crime scene investigations, and it gives the film a cheap cop television show look from time to time.
However, despite a small handful of good performances and a keen direction, "Pride and Glory" suffers from the standard good cop/bad cop morality script. The themes in this film have been done before, and done better. It was just last year that the slightly better We Own the Night was released and covered nearly the same ground. The family conflict, the moral/ethic conflict, the corruption conflict all weave together to form a rather mundane and typical movie. It's a film that is very easy to read, not only through story and plot but through character as well. "Pride and Glory" is an old friend, revisited. Only he is not nearly as welcome as he used to be.