Edward Norton and Colin Farrell play good cop/bad cop in the latest from Miracle director Gavin O’Connor. Guess which one is the hotheaded ringleader of a dirty, cold-blooded, drug-dealing crew of NYPD creeps? That’s right. If you like your moral quandaries tired and your plot developments telegraphed, you’ll love Pride and Glory. There isn’t a moment in it you won’t see coming a mile away. Well, maybe one. But more about that later.
This is the story of a family of cops. To keep things nice and familiar, O’Connor — who cowrote the screenplay with Joe Carnahan — has made them Irish cops. The patriarch is Manhattan Chief Detective Francis Tierney (Jon Voight), a sad-eyed old-schooler who loves his boys and his Bushmills. (An Irish cop with a fondness for whiskey — a sure sign a filmmaker’s going where no filmmaker has gone before.)
Francis Jr. is played by Little Children’s Noah Emmerich. He’s the head of the precinct where his brother (Norton) and brother-in-law (Farrell) are stationed, but his real job, as far as the movie is concerned, is to be conflicted. Four of his finest have been massacred in a drug deal gone wrong. On the one hand, Frank Jr. supports Norton in his quest to unravel the crime. On the other, he worries about the consequences of success, since there’s reason to believe Farrell may be behind the bloodshed.
Although the filmmakers strove for a gritty realism reminiscent of dirty-cop classics like Serpico, shooting on the meanest streets they could scout in the gentrifying neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Washington Heights, there’s something fundamentally unconvincing and contrived about the story. Forget the fact that O’Connor hauls out every cliché in the bad-cop handbook, and that the dialogue’s more boilerplate than hard-boiled. The premise itself is just plain preposterous.
We’re supposed to go along with the proposition that a nasty cad with booze issues marries into a family filled with veteran law enforcement personnel, rises through the ranks, and then, right under the noses of his in-laws, organizes a network of uniformed gangsters who engage in everything from drug dealing to extortion to murder. OK, if we were talking a family of plumbers or chiropractors, maybe. But it’s a bit of a stretch to believe Farrell’s character expects his double life to go undetected in a family of detectives.
Equally dubious is the notion that once Frank Jr. catches on, he says nothing. Perhaps if the dirty cop were his actual brother, his silence would come off as borderline believable. But this guy’s just his brother-in-law. The two aren’t portrayed as particularly close, and meanwhile, the good cops who work under Emmerich are getting set up and butchered. You’d think this kind of issue might come up over one of the film’s crowded family dinners.
Hardest of all to comprehend, however, is the presence of Edward Norton. Throughout the film I experienced a nagging suspicion there’d been some sort of paperwork snafu, and a talent agency rep had accidentally switched his schedule with Mark Wahlberg’s or maybe Josh Hartnett’s. The material is so far beneath the actor that he appears to be not so much slumming as visiting from another planet. Norton attempts to breathe brooding life into a stock character, but the task proves beyond even his prodigious talents.
Farrell’s another matter altogether. However deliberately, he’s avoided setting the bar terribly high over the course of his career. We know he’s gifted. We’re just pleasantly surprised when he goes to the trouble of demonstrating it now and then. The actor sticks to his standard bag of tricks here, and, as a result, his mad-dog badass in blue is seldom credible — though occasionally diverting. He brings, for example, a momentarily fascinating mixture of tenderness and psychosis to the film’s sole original scene, in which his character coaxes information out of a snitch by threatening his newborn in a unique way.
Good cops or bad cops, the cops we meet here are, for the most part, dull and derivative, and the beat they pound will prove uncharted cinematic territory for few moviegoers. New Line had the picture scheduled for release two years ago and has been waiting for the right time to slip it into theaters. What the world needs now is Pride and Glory? I have to say, I haven’t uncovered any evidence to back that up. Crime scenes don’t grow a whole lot colder, and police procedurals rarely are less arresting.