Pride and Glory
Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Noah Emmerich, Jon Voight, Jennifer Ehle
2.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Ah, corruption. Some of the best police dramas ("Touch of Evil," "Training Day," "The Departed" to name a few) revolve around reprehensible detectives on the take. "Pride and Glory" isn't on the same level as any of those movies, but there's plenty of wrongdoing by guys who are supposed to protect and serve. Whether or not you'll be able to stomach a plot you've seen done better dozens of times before is another matter.
Set during the Christmas season, "Pride and Glory" opens fire with the murder of four cops sent to raid a dingy drug den in Washington Heights. The shooter, Angel Tazo, thrives on killing, leaving a trail of riddled bodies that's as easy to follow as tracing the bread crumbs dropped by Hansel and Gretel. Nice action, riveting tension. But there's no way the film can maintain such a fever pitch.
Chief of Detectives Francis Tierney, Sr. (hammy Jon Voight) the booze-addled patriarch of one of New York's most revered family of Irish policemen, asks his son, Detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton, sullen and sleepy as usual) to investigate the killings. Ray's been taking zero risk assignments for the past two years as he continues to try and recover from the traumatic loss of his partner and the slow dissolution of his marriage. Out of a sense of duty to his father and older brother, Fran (a sincere performance by relative unknown Noah Emmerich), he allows his father to guilt him into taking the assignment. Since the rub outs took place in Fran's precinct and Ray's initial findings suggest a cover up is being perpetrated that's as rotten as three day-old mackerel at the Fulton Fish Market, he knows if starts peeling away the levels of corruption, his actions will derail Fran's fast track promotion to Inspector:
Ray: When we were kids we talked about being cops. How the f**k did we end up at this?
Fran: I don't know, Ray. What are you going to do?
Ray: Get this f**king blood off of me.
(Oh, yeah, there are a lot of F-bombs tossed about to the point of absurdity. If a censor had a squelch button he'd break his finger pressing it. In one of the opening scenes every other word Norton tosses out is a paint peeling adjective or verb, and he spits them out faster than candy from a Pez dispenser.)
Jimmy's crew of miscreants is made up of impetuous, knuckle-dragging lowlife Eddie Carbone (Frank Grillo, interpolating his own brand of macho Piasanics), who treats the local bodega like his own cash machine and the owner like his personal punching bag; Kenny Dugan (wiggy Shea Whigham), Jimmy's most loyal cohort, and corn-rowed Sandy the only moke with a conscience (John Ortiz, who played business-like villain Jose Yero in the rancid remake of "Miami Vice.")
As Ray digs deeper, Jimmy digs in his heels. Jimmy is a loyal family man, and he knows if he fails to quell the investigation, a dozen thugs worse than Tazo will be taking pock shots at his wife and daughters. But he's equally loyal to his adopted family of barrio beating rogue cops, and he'll do anything to protect them as well. See how long it takes you to figure out that Jimmy and Ray are headed toward a showdown that'll rival the likes of a barroom brawl at McSorley's on St. Patty's Day. It should be apparent some time after the opening credits.
I guess Edward Norton is one of those actors I simply don't get. (Harrison Ford is another.) He was huge in "American History X" playing a repentant Nazi, but has been a siphon since. His heavy-lidded hound dog face lacks a range of expression, remaining frozen somewhere between a slight pulse and sorrow. Adding a scar to his cheek roughens his look somewhat, but his puffy eyes are as glazed as a diabetic cop after his fifth Dunkin' Doughnut.
Bless his villainous heart -- Colin Farrell's portrayal of Jimmy Egan is the opposite of Norton's Ray. He's a full-barreled explosion of raw emotion one moment and an icy, commanding killer the next. Farrell stokes the fires of intensity throughout the film. His blistering performance is a throwback to the tough guy roles played by Cagney, Bogart, Edward G. and George Raft in the 30s - mess with him and you'll be erased in a most unpleasant manner. You gotta love that 1,000 yard stare Farrell projects when he beats Tazo's lieutenant for information and then threatens to disfigure his baby with an iron when he doesn't get the answer he wants. It's an unpleasant scene to watch, as chilling as seeing Richard Widmark push a woman in a wheelchair down a flight of steps in "Kiss of Death." You won't want to watch it, but you won't be able to look away either, and you won't forget it. It's the type of disturbing moment that leaves a mark.
Jon Voight pushes more ham than a midtown deli owner. His overacting is shameless. When his character hits the bottle, Voight staggers and slurs like Foster Brooks at a Dean Martin celebrity roast and is about as funny, although he's not supposed to be. The rest of the time he's busting his lungs in order to out shout the other actors. You're not getting paid by the number of speakers you blow out, Jon...
Too many potentially interesting subplots are left unexplored and unresolved. Fran's wife Abby (an emotional performance by Jennifer Ehle), is dying from cancer. We're thrown a couple of teary scenes - there's the initial jolt of seeing Abby, bald from her radiation treatments, putting on a bold face for her relatives at Christmas; we also see Abby break down as she kneels next to her son's bed, realizing she may not see his next birthday; and our hearts go out to Fran and Abby when Fran gives her a ring with an inscription in Gaelic that translates to "My love eternal." But that's the sum total of what learn about Abby. She's inserted into the story to make us cry, to give us a respite from the blood, bullets and F-bombs.
Not enough is made of Ray's pending divorce except the obvious: she's black and didn't fit into the close nit Irish family, and when Ray was shot he withdrew from life, ruining his marriage. That's it. We don't even know at the end of the film if Ray's heroics have helped him win back his wife's heart, or if she's hired a more expensive lawyer. And the idea that a powerful crooked cop would go to any lengths, burning evidence, beating bystanders, even threatening to permanent press a baby, has been a standard plot device since the days villains twirled their moustaches in silent films. Colin Farrell's acting rises above the clichés, even if his character falls heavily into the same traps that doom all bad
guys -- such as aligning himself with weak kneed minions, then acting surprised when they fail him; or dropping his weapon to fight mano a mano with the hero when it would have been easier to just ventilate him. And I didn't buy for a moment the notion that Ray could do anything in a fight against Jimmy other than let Jimmy hit him repeatedly. Regardless, the climatic bottle smashing, eye gouging, bar-wrecking knuckle session is one of the most ridiculous fight scenes ever filmed. The haymakers thrown by Farrell and Norton are so telegraphed they seem to have been launched the day before. The only way either character should have been hurt was if they died laughing.
Part of what's wrong with the film is what's right with it. The characters are designed to fit together like pieces in a puzzle: Fran's honorable tortured soul, Jimmy's morally bankrupt baddie, Frances Sr.'s whiskey and water dinosaur, and Ray's scarred, self-righteous hero... Too bad there's no glue holding the pieces together. No one seems to be able to handle acting in the same hemisphere with Farrell - his character's just too full blown to be dampened and engulfs the others. The only character that's not a caricature is Emmerich's Fran, who fesses up that he turned a blind eye while Jimmy was lining his pockets, cares for his cancer-riddled wife, and tries to mend his fractured relationship with Ray. The other characters main concerns are avoiding bullets or jail time.
You've seen "Pride and Glory" before under a thousand different names: "Night in the City," "NYPD Blue," "The Wire," "We Own the Night..." An audience will buy a string of familiar story lines if the plot is absorbing and entertaining. If you like gritty cop stories where the bad guys know no bounds and the good guys curse like it's an art form, "Pride and Glory" will entertain you. But the many subplots that only scratch the surface and go nowhere while leaving wanting much more. If the writers had taken more pride in the script, they might have covered themselves in glory.