Pride and Glory (United States, 2008)
The generic cop movie has become such a tedious bore that when something like The Departed comes along, it injects energy into a genre that, over time, has lost momentum to a dried-up wellspring of creativity. Even as recently as the '80s, when Dirty Harry was still patrolling his beat and the Miami Vice detectives were taking down bad guys every Friday night, the cop story could provide the adrenaline-and-testosterone cocktail that has since been ceded to other action/thriller sub-genres. Cop movies have recently fallen into a formulaic rut, with all the expected plot points lined up like dominos waiting to be knocked over. Pride and Glory, from director Gavin O'Connor, tries, at least to a degree, to escape that vortex. It wants to be different; yet, in the end, the elements that separate this police corruption film from those with similar themes and subjects are those that derail the climax and send this freight train careening out of control.
Once upon a time, it was "cops and robbers." Now, the cops sometimes are the robbers. Such is the case in Pride and Glory, which explores the well-tilled territory that sometimes the most egregious examples of violence against police is perpetrated by other cops. Predictably, such incidents are followed by cover-ups until the Righteous, Incorruptible One performing the investigation gets close to the truth. The movie runs 125 minutes and, for about 110 of those minutes, it's a workmanlike take on the genre - not groundbreaking, to be sure, but competent in its rendering of drama and tension. Then, in almost spectacular fashion, it implodes with what ranks as one of the worst final 15 minutes of any major motion picture (worse even than Lakeview Terrace). Pride and Glory traverses the road from enjoyable to ludicrous in record time. This stunning example of self-immolation left me literally shaking my head as I exited the theater. A half hour earlier, I had been silently congratulating the film for avoiding the kind of silly, violent pitfalls that seem necessary in this sort of film.
Edward Norton is Ray and Noah Emmerich is Francis Jr. - two brothers who are both NYPD stalwarts. Their brother-in-law, Jimmy (Colin Farrell), is also a cop, and Ray and Francis' father (Jon Voight) is an ex-police chief. Blue runs in their blood, but that blood threatens to spill on the streets when four cops are killed and Ray's investigation into the massacre leads him to believe that cops were involved. As it turns out, the culprits weren't just "any" cops, but a group headed by Jimmy, who has been using members of his squad to carry out murders for cash. Since it's drug dealers paying for other drug dealers to die, Jimmy doesn't see anything wrong with it but, when one of his targets gets away, the fallout threatens to expose the scheme and plunge public trust in the police to an all-time low.
It's impossible to argue about the quality of the acting, but one would expect no less from the likes of Norton and Farrell. Both are capable of crafting volcanic screen personas, and that's what we get here. Voight, who has been somewhat hit-and-miss in recent years (he has resorted to taking a few too many roles simply for the paycheck), is in fine form, and there are solid supporting performances from Emmerich and Jennifer Ehle (everyone's favorite Elizabeth Bennett) as Francis' cancer-stricken wife. There is some truth to the belief that top-notch acting can elevate an otherwise unremarkable motion picture, and that's what happens here, at least for most of the production. There are some problems, however, that not even a superlative roster of performances can obscure.
For well over 90 minutes, the writing is as solid as the acting. The narrative generates sufficient tension to make us forget how familiar many of the beats are and the intelligent way in which the investigation is handled makes us wonder why more police thrillers couldn't be like this. The disappointment engendered by the ending is hard to express. There are at least three major problems. Without being specific, I can say that one has to do with an incident at a convenience store, another relates to a fist-fight, and a third employs a coincidence of staggering magnitude. The final 15 minutes are so awful that it's difficult to believe that the bulk of the film is actually decent. Some movies can survive a bad climax well enough to receive a recommendation. Pride and Glory is not among their number.
Pride and Glory (United States, 2008)
Cast: Colin Farrell, Edward Norton, Jon Voight, Noah Emmerich, Jennifer Ehle
Screenplay: Joe Carnahan & Gavin O'Connor
Cinematography: Declan Quinn
Music: Mark Isham
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema
U.S. Release Date: 2008-10-24
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Drugs)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1