Pride and Glory (review)

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Bleeding Blue and Red

Well, this is refreshing. In a world where we’re all used to movie trailers that begin with “In a world where…” and then go on to reveal the entire plot for us, it turns out that the trailer for Pride and Glory does not, in fact, do that, even though it looks like it does. Colin Farrell is The Dirty Cop? Why’d they tell us that right in the damn trailer? Haven’t they ruined the entire movie for us now?
Turns out: Nope. Not at all. Because Pride and Glory isn’t a whodunnit, it’s a why’d-they-do-it and a how’re-they-gonna-fix-it (or maybe a can-it-be-fixed-at-all). This is not, say, Righteous Kill, which is all about making us wonder — and tediously, at that — for 90 minutes whether it’s DeNiro or Pacino who’s the Bad Guy, the Cop Gone Wrong (and making itself utterly irrelevant after a first viewing). Instead, we learn in the opening minutes of Pride that Farrell’s (In Bruges, Cassandra’s Dream) Jimmy Egan is a nasty piece of work, a thoroughly corrupt uniformed member of the NYPD, and it’s hardly been a matter of suspense when we later discover the depths of his psychopathic hypocrisy and selfishness. (It is a wonderful cinematic pleasure, though, to see Farrell continue to astonish us with the breathtaking scope of his talent for creating fiercely emotional characters, even when they’re borderline crazy.)

And we know right from the opening moments of the film that Edward Norton’s (The Incredible Hulk, The Painted Veil) Ray Tierney — Jimmy Egan’s brother-in-law — is all tore up over some unspoken-of past incident in which he was forced to abandon his principles as a human being and as a cop, and is now attempting to make up for it by not letting himself get into a similar situation again. He has left the glamorous fast track, such as it is, of the NYPD in the major-case division and now toils in missing-persons.

Until now. Four officers are shot dead in a bizarre shootout in Washington Heights, and they were boys from the squad run by Francis Tierney Jr. (Noah Emmerich: Little Children, Cellular), Ray’s brother, where Jimmy is also stationed. Oh yeah, and one of the dead officers was Ray’s former partner and best friend. Chief of Detectives Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight: National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Transformers) convinces Ray to come back to lead the investigation and, you know, protect the interests of all involved. Which seems the perfect setup for exactly the kind of situation Ray was looking to avoid: having to decide which of his bonds of loyality is strongest. Is it the one to his fellow cops, the one to his family, or the one to the truth?

Director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, Tumbleweeds) — the son of an NYPD officer; O’Connor wrote the script with his brother, Gregory, and with retired cop Robert Hopes and filmmaker Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces) — has captured a down-to-earth honesty here, not just in how it treats the world of its setting but how it treats its audience. It expects that you will be able to keep up with a fast-moving plot that’s more about the internal motivations of the characters than it is about who’s-doing-what-now. It expects that you don’t need absolutely everything spelled out for you, and that you won’t panic if it throws some untranslated and uncaptioned Spanish at you. It expects that you don’t need to be manipulated for feel something.

See, there’s nothing sentimental here pretends there’s one right answer to Ray’s dilemma, or that you can’t figure that out for yourself. The lack of schmaltz is an especial compliment seeing as how the story takes place at Christmastime, with all the attendant family feeling that comes with that, or seeing as how O’Connor does not shun dramatizing the intense matters of domestic concern that haunt Jimmy, Ray, and Francis Jr. Wives and children and holiday gatherings and illness and divorce and reconciliation: none of this ever descends into mawkishess. And there’s nothing snarky here that pretends that any of this is a joke, that the only way you might be able to handle matters of such intensity is by laughng at them, or that these aren’t real matters of the life and death of the soul — if not the body — that exist beyond the confines of cop movies, or even cop reality. Good people all of stripes get pushed into corners when allegiances fail to coincide. That’s the psychological reality of Pride and Glory. This isn’t a cop movie: it’s a people movie set against the immediacy and passion of the cop world, is all.

There’s no doubt that there’s something right up-to-the-moment about seeing two of Generation X’s finest actors square off against each other onscreen: Norton is a coolly intelligent foil to Farrell’s explosiveness. But there’s something wonderfully old-fashioned, too, about Pride and Glory’s sincerity and candidness and muscular integrity. It harkens back to a time when moviemaking wasn’t seen as a game but as a calling, and maybe it bodes for more of the same in the future as well.

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