With its focus on corruption and family angst among Irish-American New York cops, “Pride and Glory” feels like a film that should have been made at least 25 years ago. Or made as a period piece. Heavy, doom-laden and, unfortunately, entirely predictable, director Gavin O’Connor’s murky drama applies epic aspirations to a story all too familiar from any number of films and TV shows. New Line sat on the film for so long it ran out of time to release it, so the task falls to Warner Bros. to try to milk a few bucks out of it, which won’t be easy.
Gavin O’Connor and his twin brother, producer Gregory, grew up as the sons of a New York City cop and developed this story together, along with Robert Hopes and co-scenarist Joe Carnahan. The sincerity and earnestness of their approach are as obvious as the plot mechanics, which hinge on the long-understood tendency of cops to close ranks and protect their own against outsiders, as well as on loyalty within a clan.
Mortal conflict among brothers is officially the oldest story in the book, so it’s a disappointment that some new spin isn’t put on the inevitable faceoff between smart but dour Det. Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) and his dedicated but bad-boy brother-in-law, Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). The family also includes straight-arrow first son Francis Tierney Jr. (Noah Emmerich) and its patriarch, boozing Chief of Manhattan Detectives Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight).
Unspooling through the Christmas season, tale is triggered by a drug bust gone bad, in which four of Francis Jr.’s men are killed. Reluctantly pulled back in by his dad to join the taskforce after having left street work in the wake of a previous tragedy, Ray makes progress with his own investigation. But Jimmy has two of his own guys dealing with the situation as well, and it isn’t long before Ray realizes the team is compromised by renegades.
Soon thereafter, Jimmy puts Ray in a position where he’s forced to choose between family loyalty and proper justice, and the only thing vaguely surprising about the way it all turns out is that the boys take time out to try to settle it the old-fashioned way, in a bare-knuckles Irish brawl.
Otherwise, it’s all Sturm und Drang, as O’Connor devotes considerable time to detailing the Tierney family woes: Francis Jr.’s wife, Abby (Jennifer Ehle, with head shaved), is in the final stages of terminal cancer; Ray’s about-to-be ex-wife doesn’t want him back; and holiday family time is constantly interrupted by emergencies and lowlifes dropping by to bug Jimmy, leaving wives and kids high and dry.
Action is regularly peppered by quite violent scenes in which the cops beat on or blow away mostly Hispanic bad guys to get information or to avenge other cops. It’s a miserable world all around, without so much as a trace of satisfaction, much less happiness. The deterministic tragedy is guaranteed to make you more depressed going out than you were going in, even if you were depressed in the first place.
O’Connor does succeed in creating a fabric of everyday working-class life, albeit a very grim one painted by lenser Declan Quinn in dark blues and blacks. Mark Isham’s score further lays on the sense of foreboding. Acting across the boards is in a muted, intense, naturalistic style that periodically erupts into outbursts of shouting and unbridled physicality.