Pride and Glory has had a rocky road getting to the screen. Set to begin production in early 2002, the film was abandoned after the 9/11 attacks on New York City, when it was deemed that people wanted to celebrate the heroics of the city's police force, rather than tarnish their reputation with a tale of corruption and scandal. Once it was finally made, Pride and Glory spent the better part of two years sitting on the shelf, ping-ponging between release dates. Now that it's finally seeing the light of day, is Pride and Glory worth the wait? Yes, but barely.
The always dependable Edward Norton plays Ray Tierney, a missing persons investigator whose Chief of Detectives father, Francis Tierney, Sr. (Jon Voight) pulls him from his duties to look into the brutal slaying of four cops on a drug bust gone wrong. Ray shares some of the same DNA of L.A. Confidential's crusading do-gooder Ed Exley, minus the loathsome self-righteousness. He's an honorable cop in a soul-numbing profession. Ray doesn't want the assignment. His life has been falling apart lately and he has the scars, both physically and emotionally, to prove it. He'd much rather spend his days sequestered in an office and his nights holed up in his leaky houseboat. But his father insists, impatient for him to get back into the field after a traumatic altercation, despite what is an obvious conflict of interest.
The dead cops were all under the command of Ray's brother, Francis Tierney Jr. (Noah Emmerich), whose wife (Jennifer Ehle) is dying of cancer. Each of them worked side by side with Ray and Francis' hot-headed brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). Ray finds himself in a claustrophobic position when his investigation begins to turn up a web of police corruption directly implicating his family, especially ringleader Jimmy. It seems Jimmy and his cop cohorts have been using their position to fleece the neighborhood and skim profits from local drug dealers.
When Ray shares his suspicions with his father, who initially told him to let nothing stand in the way of getting to the truth, Ray is told to back off and let things lie. Ray is faced with an impossible decision—does he do the right thing despite the fact that it will tear his family into tatters, or does he look the other way in the interest of domestic tranquility? If the ending of Pride and Glory is contrived, it is, at least, justice writ large on a Shakespearian scale.
Pride and Glory is a solid if unimaginative addition to a cop genre becoming increasingly devoid of originality. Purveyors of the genre will recognize bits and pieces of the recent masterpiece The Departed, the atrocious Street Kings, and the middling We Own the Night, also a film about conflicted brothers in blue. Pride and Glory taps well-worn themes: law enforcement spanning generations of a single family, cultural pride, brother pitted against brother, the clash of family and career loyalties, racial disintegration, etc.
The satisfactory police melodrama is careful to never paint outside the lines or even consider reinventing the wheel, but it also crams in plenty of gritty action and harrowing, gore-splattered violence. Good cops meet bad cops on mean streets makes for an engrossing, if familiar, yarn. Pride and Glory didn't need to be made—if for no other reason than it has already appeared in various incarnations—but thankfully it takes its formulaic building blocks and uses them to construct something ever so slightly above the standard genre fare.
If Pride and Glory stumbles and falls in injecting new life to a tired genre, it succeeds as an actors showcase. The performances are uniformly rock-solid. Norton's cautious restraint is nicely balanced by Farrell's bull-in-a-china shop histrionics. Emmerich gives a nuanced, understated performance, and the woefully underutilized and underappreciated actress Jennifer Ehle (best known as Elizabeth Bennett in BCC/A&E's definitive production of Pride and Prejudice) turns in a haunting performance as a woman on the verge of losing everything she loves. Voight, who has caricatured his career of late with lame performances in every other film Jerry Bruckheimer makes, finally returns to form, investing his patriarch with just the right amount of gravitas and humanity.
The real stars of the show may be director Gavin O'Connor and cinematographer Declan Quinn. They paint in cold, muted colors, conjuring a Manhattan that is both eerily realistic even as it is perceptibly stylized. O'Connor and Quinn's camera follows the actors for long periods of time, not beside or in front of them, but behind them, almost like a silent partner watching their backs. It stalks the characters, gazes through windows, spies on intimate conversations and crashes through doors during raids. Like a personal POV, it stands in for the audience, virtual reality without the total immersion.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive!" Sir Walter Scott's words ring prophetically true in Pride and Glory. Those things done in secret are dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light. And the more wickedness contorts this way and that to get away from the truth, the more it binds itself in impenetrable knots.
What happens when those sworn to uphold the law are as vile as those who work to erode it? Unlike in the appalling Righteous Kill, in which a police officer goes outside the law and murders criminals in a misguided attempt to cleanse society of evil, the corrupt Jimmy has no other ambition but greed. When cornered, Jimmy counters with speeches about the end justifying the means, but the only end he is interested in is the one that pads his own wallet. The only difference between Jimmy and those he tosses in jail is his badge, a sort of magic talisman he uses to grease the wheels of his criminal ambitions.
But ultimately Pride and Glory is not interested in Jimmy or the choices he's made. Despite beautiful, richly humanizing scenes in which Jimmy dotes lovingly on his wife and children, we recognize him for what he is—a lost cause, someone buried so deep he can no longer see the light at the top. Pride and Glory is instead interested in the choices Ray must make. Therein lies the far more compelling examination.
How will Ray maintain his honor in the face of overwhelming pressure to ignore what he's found? How can he be loyal to his beloved family when his family, like his ailing sister-in-law, is infected with a cancer? Ray is confronted not with a good and a bad option, but a range of only ever more agonizing choices. His decision will surely tear his family apart, but it may be the only personally redemptive act left to him.Discussion starters
- Near the end of the film, Jimmy tries to defend his actions by claiming, "We're all dirty." While Jimmy is speaking about members of the police force, can you think of a way that the line takes on a more comprehensive, spiritual relevance?
- How does Numbers 32:23 apply to this film?
- At several moments throughout the film, the camera falls on crosses—hanging on walls, tattooed on characters' arm, etc. Since it is never implied that the Tierney household is religious, how do we account for these insertions? Is there religious iconography in your life that is more cultural than personal?
- Have you ever been faced with a scenario in which doing right meant hurting those you love the most? What did you do?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Pride and Glory is rated R for strong violence, pervasive language and brief drug content. It is bloated with pervasive, hard language; multiple instances of unflinching, gory violence (including a scene where a man threatens to apply a hot iron to an infant); brief non-sexual nudity; a short, unrevealing sexual situation; and an instance of drug use.
Photos © Copyright New Line Cinema
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