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There's a familiarity to Pride and Glory that, depending on your perspective, could be either horrendously tiresome or part of the charm. By all accounts it's a middling film, an overwrought and occasionally laughable corrupt cop drama that you've seen countless times. But for me, going back to this world of divided loyalties, broken oaths, outraged good guys, and "we protect our own" machismo was like settling into a comfortable recliner. An extremely comfortable one, actually: Pride and Glory is moody, attractive and well-acted. I think director Gavin O'Connor intended it to be grim and upsetting, but at best it's pulpy entertainment, a highly watchable series of well-worn, well-executed clichés.
The closest recent analogue to Pride and Glory is probably James Gray's far superior We Own the Night. There, too, father and son cops wrestle with their commitments to each other, their families, themselves, and the often abstract notion of being policemen. In O'Connor's film, these themes play out along thoroughly conventional lines. Edward Norton and Noah Emmerich play brothers; Emmerich's Francis is a respected commanding officer, while Norton's Ray, despite his talent and promise, has relegated himself to Missing Persons after an initially-unspecified Traumatic Incident some years back. Their Dad, Francis Sr. (Jon Voight), is an experienced careerist who has worked his way up through the ranks. When a failed drug bust results in the shooting death of four officers, Ray brings himself out of self-imposed semi-retirement to investigate – but his sleuthing leads him to a corrupt cabal that may include his brother and longtime family friend Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell).
As is the norm for a certain subset of this genre, the film may as well have been called "Doom and Gloom." O'Connor piles on the unpleasantness with flourishes that range from the maudlin (Francis's wife is randomly dying of cancer) to the horrific (a character threatens to take a hot iron to an infant). Characters talk about what they thought it meant to be a cop – that's the business about "pride and glory" – but the reality the movie presents is so bleak it's almost absurd. Its gray, somber exterior (O'Connor's New York City has never heard of a sunny day) adds to the occasionally mind-numbing effect.
Despite Pride and Glory's relentless efforts to be a downer, though, it's actually kind of fun. Norton is just great as the angry, conflicted Ray; he's a bastion of sanity, and his outrage is convincing. Colin Farrell is a blast as a remorseless bad guy, and he has one scene with Rick Gonzalez that brings down the house. (Farrell, I am finally realizing, is best in roles where he doesn't need to earn our sympathy – which is why he should stick to playing villains.) And while Norton gets props for keeping the film from degenerating into total camp, the moments where it threatens to do so (i.e. the baby ironing) are enjoyable in their own right. Not what O'Connor intended, I'm sure, but I'll take what I can get.
I can't really make excuses for Pride and Glory's last ten minutes, which are complete nonsense regardless of how you look at it. If you were engaged in the story, parts of the ending – particularly a climactic fistfight set in a bar – may infuriate you. If you were just enjoying the film as a spirited genre exercise, you may be able to take the resolution in stride. I was trying to do both, and my reaction was to break down and laugh.
I keep calling the movie "fun," which would surprise many of my colleagues at TIFF who hated it and wanted it to end. There's a pretty easy way to tell where you'll fall. The most common complaint I heard was that Pride and Glory is a retread of every cop movie you've ever seen: policemen standing around yelling at each other with Brooklyn accents about the same things policemen have been yelling at each other about on screen for decades. That's mostly accurate, and if that sounds terrible to you, then you shouldn't go anywhere near this film. In truth, I can't really recommend it to any occasional moviegoer who would like something substantial or highly entertaining for his money. But if you like the clichés in which Pride and Glory traffics, and if you like these actors, then you might have a good time. At least until the end.