A film review by Craig J. Koban


2008, R, 129 mins.

Ray Tierney: Edward Norton / Jimmy Egan: Colin Farrell / Francis Tierney Sr.: Jon Voight / Francis Tierney Jr.: Noah Emmerich / Abby Tierney: Jennifer Ehle / Tasha: Carmen Ejogo / Ruben Santiago: John Ortiz

Directed by Gavin O'Connor / Written by Joe Carnahan and O'Connor

There have been dirty cops in the movies before, but rarely have they appeared more sadistically amoral and crooked than in Gavin O’ Connor’s PRIDE AND GLORY.  Just how depraved and rotten, you ask?  Well, in one vile and savagely tense scene, a severely twisted and high strung police officer takes a piping hot clothes iron and threatens a thug for some much needed information.  However, the cop does not terrorize the man, but rather the man's infant son, which he holds only centimeters from the scolding iron.

Yes…that depraved and rotten.

There have been countless films over the years that painted men in uniform that are sworn to protect and serve as unhinged and ill tempered, but PRIDE AND GLORY takes it a full step further.  The film is subversive in the same zest and spirit of the best police procedurals of the 1970’s, and although the film comes no where close to those films in terms of grit and forcefulness.  PRIDE AND GLORY nevertheless deserves to be whispered in the same league, which is something that far too many clichéd ridden and blasé modern cop thrillers fail to do.  

Even more so, the film goes further with its themes than what I was anticipating: Instead of steadfastly being just about bad cops, it also gives us a fly-on-the-wall perspective of how the trials and tribulations of these ethical men also involve a tragedy of a conflicted family and the nature of personal loyalty.  At the epicenter of the film is a simple question: Is it okay to be blindly loyal and obedient to the culture of law enforcement even if it means selling yourself out to the highest bidder, not to mention alienating the people around you that care the most?  On these levels, PRIDE AND GLORY is thoroughly compelling and digs a bit deeper with its issues than most lethargic examples of the genre.

It all goes down like this: The film, at its core, is about a family of Irish cops that is progressively being unhinged at the seams by the heroic efforts of one brother and the deplorable actions of another.  The two brothers in question are Ray (Ed Norton) and Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich), who both are members of the NYPD.  They also have a brother-in-law on the force named Jimmy (Colin Farrell) and their aging father (Jon Voight) is an ex police chief.  This is a family that bleeds blue, but despite all of these men having the commonalty of being cops, not all of them are straight arrows.  Their often-divergent enforcement methods really come to the forefront after the brutal murder of four NYPD cops after a drug bust that went horrible wrong.  Francis Jr. takes most of the burdern of the blame, seeing as he was in command of the doomed unit, which also included Jimmy (he makes it out okay, but under somewhat suspicious circumstances)

Francis Jr. – obsessively yearning to get to the bottom of the horrible slaughter of his men – takes it upon himself to approach his father to help him convince Ray to assist them on the investigation.  Before the event Ray was plagued by scandals that nearly destroyed his career, so he voluntarily placed himself on duty in Missing Persons.  However, he is known as a relative decent minded and noble cop that is most undoubtedly not on the take…plus…he gets results.  After Francis Sr. twists his arm, Ray begrudgingly decides to look into matters and get some much-needed answers.

The investigation gets dicey really fast when Ray becomes suspicious that the culprits of the murders may not be thugs, but perhaps cops.  What’s interesting about PRIDE AND GLORY is that there is very little in the way of hiding the true motivation of all of the cop characters and it very early on establishes who’s who and where loyalties lie.  This is a unique approach as it does not allow the script to lazily meander around in a who-dunnit style mystery, but instead becomes a much more intense cat n’ mouse game about how the corrupt cops try to hide their motives.  One thing is for sure, Ray is the “good” cop on the side of the law, but it becomes clear that his brother-in-law Jimmy is the exact opposite.  Not only is he corrupt, but he also leads a whole squad of dishonest and depraved officers that carry out murders of drug dealers that are funded by other drug dealers, which in their warped worldview is “okay.”  Ray, for obvious reasons, sees things quite differently, and the film becomes a race to see how far Ray will go to put his brother-in-law away, not to mention the despicable levels Jimmy will stoop to in order to see that his reputation and career will not be destroyed.  Unfortunately placed in the middle of all of this is Francis Jr. and Sr., both of whom are having trouble dealing with the correct mode of action altogether. 

PRIDE AND GLORY was co-written by Gavin O’Connor, who began writing the film with his brother Gregory and a New York Officer named Robert A. Hopes in 1999.  The O’Connor brothers had a father in the police force, so their hopes were to make a film that was a celebration of gutsy and perseverant loyalty amidst the backdrop of overwhelming police corruption.  Co-writing credit for the film eventually went to Joe Carnahan, who makes a respectable return to form here after his uniformly disappointing last effort, SMOKIN’ ACES, a lurid Tarantino-knock-off that existed on a level of pure style over substance.  Previous to that film Carnahan made NARC, one of the better cop flicks of the last few years that managed to briefly resurrect Ray Liotta’s career out of direct-to-video B-grade fare.  In PRIDE AND GLORY both O’Connor and Carnahan show their knack for capturing the subtle and not-so-subtle inflections and quirks of their cop personas, both righteously good and notoriously bad.  The dialogue in the film is coarse, vulgar, and riddled with four and twelve letter f-bomb derivatives, but the spirited and caustic exchanges give a sense of seedy veracity to the film.  Even when the screenplay frequently lags on the level of its plot (which never gels too cohesively together), there is no denying that Carnahan and O’Connor nails the tone and spirit of their characters successfully.

O’Connor also serves as the film’s director, and his previous film may not have lent him to be a likely candidate for this as his follow-up.  He previously made, for my money, one of the best hockey films in a long time in 2004’s MIRACLE, which chronicled the US ice hockey team's phenomenal rise in the 1980 Winter Olympics.  I admired that film’s sense of gritty, in-your-face realism with it’s on-ice action (it was the SAVING PRIVATE RYAN of hockey films) as well as its keenly focused characters and performances.  O’Connor brings much of the same to PRIDE AND GLORY and he shoots the film with a very loose, wily, and almost improvisational flare.  This is not a clean looking film, per se, nor does it have a level of big budget sheen and gloss.  Instead, PRIDE AND GLORY looks appropriately grungy, murky, messy, and chaotic.  O’Connor’s camera often feels like its eavesdropping on characters during their most intimate moments, which effectively elevates the film’s sense of moral corruption and ethical decay.  Not all of this artifice works, as is the case with many of the action scenes (which are shot with a queasy and vomit-inducing erratic style that is often so frenzied that you can’t make out the particulars), but he nonetheless manages to capture the sleazy and desolate allure of the world of this film.

PRIDE AND GLORY reminded my considerably of James Mangold’s COPLAND in terms of it being a bravura example of fantastic ensemble performances.  The film is able to erode much of its story faults with its acting, and few films in 2008 thus far have had such uniformly great ones.  Ed Norton, as expected, is resoundingly solid as he effortlessly brings introverted pathos and rage to his noble-minded cop character.  Colin Farrell is equally magnificent as his work here – alongside his Oscar-worthy turn in this year’s IN BRUGES – shows why he deserves worthy inclusion with the finest young actors working today: He is venomously hostile and fearsomely rancorous as Jimmy. 

The supporting performers are also very strong.  Noah Emmerich – a below-the-radar actor if there ever was one – arguably gives the film's finest, most layered, and trickiest performance as a cop that is both directly and indirectly crooked, but he is often emotionally torn between his sense of duty and his support of his men.  He finds PRIDE AND GLORY’s heartbeat in his intimate scenes with his cancer-stricken wife (played in a brief, but heartbreaking, performance by Elizabeth Bennett).  She too has personal struggles not only with the painful inevitability of death, but also is plagued with the thought of her children being raised by a potent ional immoral husband.  And then there is Jon Voight playing the wise and cagey father figure and he’s so refreshingly refined and strong here, especially considering the relative smorgasbord of dry and phoned-in paycheck performances he’s given lately (see BRATZ, TRANSFORMERS and the NATIONAL TREASURE films).  His work here is a textbook example of subtly and tact: Consider a key moment in the film at a family Christmas diner where his intoxicated paternal figure stammers through the conversations.  His delivery here finds the right cadence and flow: this is his best performance in a decade.

PRIDE AND GLORY works so assuredly throughout that it looked like it was going to be a near-masterpiece of the genre.  The performances are fantastic, the direction confident and textured, and the dialogue and exchanges are crisp and vigorous.  It’s just unfortunate that the film sort of spirals out of control, especially in its final act that resorts to some startling story coincidences, not to mention that one character gets off far, far too easily in a moment that is nearly eye-rolling.  However, when brothers-in-law Norton and Farrell finally go mano-a-mano and confront one another, their snarled and fist clenched intensity blasts off the screen (mournfully, the recent De Niro and Pacino lead RIGHTEOUS KILL should have elicited the same excitement).  PRIDE AND GLORY may fall short of greatness, but it makes enough wise choices to emerge as an involving, compelling, and powerful corrupt cop thriller.  And is it not a treat to see Jon Voight channel himself in riveting fashion in a role that does not require to play opposite of interstellar, shape-shifting robots or lame treasure hunters searching for artifacts left by America’s Founding Fathers?  You betcha!

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