Spring’s overcooked Street Kings suggested there was little left for filmmakers and actors to choke down from bones of bad-cop movies besides gristle and fat. But the cast and crew of Pride and Glory find generous amounts of meat at which to voraciously tear.
What’s best about Pride and Glory is that there’s no Handi-Wipe to clean up a necessarily ambiguous final course. And that’s perhaps why the film (shot in 2006) unfairly sat shelved despite the drawing power of Edward Norton and Colin Farrell.
Detective-story devotees will see most, if not all, of the plot turns coming in this tale of an Irish Catholic family of righteous, or rogue, New York policemen. However, as in 2004’s hockey-movie Miracle, director Gavin O’Connor goes for serious drama over slick thrills.
Rather than a victory story, though, this one is vertiginous. Practically sprinting at times with a handheld camera, the film dizzyingly draws us down into these characters’ frantic clawing for penitence amid punishment.
Pride and Glory opens at a pick-up football game between the NYPD and the FDNY. Jimmy Egan (Farrell) controls the gridiron, cheered on by brothers-in-law Ray Tierney (Norton) and Francis Tierney Jr., played by Noah Emmerich.
Emmerich is a wonderful character actor, for whom only modesty can explain criminal resume gaps. He is, after all, the brother of New Line Cinema head of production Toby Emmerich, an executive producer on Pride and Glory.
Seconds after the NYPD wins, Francis gets a call — four of Jimmy’s officers down in Washington Heights. All of them die, and the alleged shooter, drug runner Angel Tezo (Ramon Rodriguez), has scurried away.
At the insistence of his father, Francis Sr. (Jon Voight), Ray reluctantly joins a task force to investigate the shootings. Francis Sr. feels two years is enough for Ray to have recovered from a badly botched bust.
Norton long ago traded promise for paychecks, but he’s no less gripping for it even in genre films. Ray is a beaten man rejuvenated by revisiting an interrogative technique as careful as it is cocksure. A scene in which he uses caution and hushed tones to solicit information from a young child is masterful.
However, Ray’s search yields a lead that could unravel the Tierney family and the entire department. Jimmy and his unit sold their services to the highest bidder in exchange for payoffs of drug money, and Tezo was their latest target.
Jimmy’s stubble has its own 5 o’clock shadow, and Farrell’s hair is salt-and-peppered to look older than his 29 years (at the time of filming). His psychosis is palpable, as Farrell channels the best parts of Ray Liotta. He errs only in the third act by blatantly, and embarrassingly, scrunching his face a la Robert De Niro.
Relentlessly grim and appropriately abrasive, Pride and Glory is a far-more compelling, and less gimmicky, portrayal of slow family implosion than 2007’s overrated Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.
Critical choices trump convenient circumstance in a script O’Connor co-wrote with Joe Carnahan, who administered a similarly significant dose of genre adrenaline in 2002’s feverish Narc. In that regard, Pride and Glory recalls Devil director Sidney Lumet’s superior Serpico or Prince of the City.
Set during an industrial-grade winter, Pride finds beautiful compositions and comparisons amid its bleakness — especially a hard cut from a gunshot-wound spatter pattern to an entanglement of living kids’ limbs in a bed. In a way, it’s blood to blood — done in a grandly overheated and legitimately, often stunningly tragic style.