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In Pride and Glory, a few New York City policemen are horrified when a criminal investigation points to…corruption in their own department. Drugs are involved, lots of cash is exchanged, innocent blood is spilled. But wait: This time, it’s personal. See, the rot appears to lead not only to our central investigator’s colleagues, but to…his own family.
If you think you’ve already seen Gavin O’Connor’s crime drama, you have. Versions of the good-cop-bad-cop (or good-brother-bad-brother) story have been filmed countless times, from recent high-profile dreck such as Righteous Kill to last year’s so-so We Own the Night to Oscar winners such as L.A. Confidential and The Departed. And thanks to some choice give-it-all-away marketing, O’Connor’s screenplay (co-written by Narc writer-director Joe Carnahan) can’t even be spun as a whodunit. (It’s the brother-in-law.) Or even a why’d-he-do-it. (End justifies the means.) The justification for this one is, essentially, well, it’s got Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, and Jon Voight in leading roles, so why don’t you just come see how this one plays out?
You can give Pride and Glory credit for one thing: It sure knows how to wallow in its fiction’s filth. You likely won’t remember the finer points of the scandal that Detective Ray Tierney (Norton) uncovers after four policemen are killed and his father, Chief of Detectives Francis Tierney Sr. (Voight), insists that he lead the investigation. Less easy to shake is the sense of griminess you’ll feel having witnessed it. O’Connor, electing to take a significant tonal downshift after directing 2004’s feel-good Miracle, about the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team, isn’t afraid to Go There when depicting the reality of the underworld. In the dark alleys and apartments of the Washington Heights neighborhood where the plot lingers, we see corpses, hysteria, and blood splattered on everyone and everything, often courtesy not of official dirtbags but rather New York’s finest.
Admirably, O’Connor does show a bit of restraint, letting out-of-frame gunshots and the resulting red rivers deliver the message instead of going for the shock value of brains and guts. What’s more stomach-twisting, though, is the putrescence of Pride and Glory’s characters. Ray may be the story’s moral center, but he’s actually the black sheep of the family, having separated himself from homicide after the department’s last cover-up. He believes he has allies in his father and brother, Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich), the department chief. But when Ray discovers that a drug kingpin may be staying one step ahead—and murdering their own—because of a uniformed mole, they don’t want to listen. Particularly because such a scenario would implicate Jimmy (Farrell), husband to Ray and Francis Jr.’s sister and loving father of three kids.
Jimmy’s band of rogues is merciless and amoral, regarding the badge as a “license to steal” and slaughtering (or at least scaring the hell out of) anyone who threatens to ruin their sweet deals. A few occasionally express reluctance about their extreme ways, but Jimmy is absolute in his wretchedness, at least outside of his blood family. Right after we see him threatening a dealer for visiting him at his home, Jimmy busts into the cramped apartment of another lowlife, beating him senseless in front of his female relatives and, most vile of all, holding a steaming iron next to an infant’s face in an attempt to get information. Farrell, with a touch of gray at his temples, officially closes the discussion on whether he’s just a forgettable pretty boy with this icily terrifying performance, bookending his equally impressive comedic turn in this year’s earlier In Bruges.
Norton, Voight, and the angel-faced Emmerich are also strong as men grappling with their profession’s shades of gray, ably spitting out the script’s rapid-fire lingo (and elevating its occasional triteness, particularly in scenes involving Francis Jr.’s cancer-stricken wife). O’Connor even manages to make the logic of keeping cop corruption hush-hush understandable as the film builds to its riot- and tension-filled conclusion, with chaos overtaking New York streets once word of unprovoked police brutality leaks out. Pride and Glory remains gripping despite offering little more than what you can catch on the latest CSI, and it’s probably not what audiences are looking for during a time when Beverly Hills Chihuahua is raking in as much dough as some crooked fuzz. But if you prefer your escapism bleak, here’s pay dirt.