Before the closing credits to Pride and Glory start, there's a tag explaining how the movie is not based on a true story. The conceit is that the film experience is so stunningly authentic that the audience needs to be decompressed back into the real world with a reminder that it was only a movie.
It's a little annoying, because a lot of what happens in Pride and Glory is so unbelievable. On one level, the film's a typical scuzzy, New York corrupt-cop movie. Four cops are killed, and it's clear to everyone but the characters in the movie that these were rogue policemen. Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) is called in to join the investigation. Ray has a troubled past but is bright and in need of some redemption — he's damaged but he's got the goods.
Ray's brother, Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich), was the boss of the four dead cops, and Ray's dad, Francis Sr. (Jon Voight), is police brass with a vested interest in seeing the case cleared. The prime suspect, Tezo (Ramon Rodriguez), is a killer on the run. And maybe nobody wants him more than Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell), brother-in-law to the Tierney boys and captain of the NYPD football team.
It becomes obvious very soon who's on which side of the law; it gets more interesting when that line moves. What's goofy is how absolutely lawless — but dumb at it — the bad cops are. They would've gotten caught right away if this were based on a true story. The story shifts off the axis of credibility, climaxing with the nadir of plausibility.
Director Gavin O'Connor (Miracle, Tumbleweeds) sets a frenetic pace, but he resists the urge to go Tony Scott on the movie. Pride and Glory's bravura is punctuated by tender moments that make the movie: Francis Jr.'s Christmas morning with his cancer-stricken wife (Jennifer Ehle, who steals the movie in about three scenes); Ray gently interrogating a child.
This is a high-profile role for Emmerich, the character actor who has been so good in Little Children and Beautiful Girls (among others). It's a showcase for his talents. Worse for the wear is Farrell. He's like a black hole: The eye slips right over him, and the scenery chews him up, even when he's overacting.
Norton is good, again, but he's aging onscreen in weird ways. He'll no doubt be an excellent middle- and late-age actor, but until his boyish looks catch up to his years, he's going to have to keep working overtime to make his maturing characters convincing.
What's best about Pride and Glory are the familial underpinnings to the story. The extended Tierney family seems more real than anything on the mean streets. Would that they existed in a plot more worthy of their drama.
Pride and Glory