We expect to see Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson burst through the door with tommy guns.
Police dramas have carved a deep V groove in American movie history. Some are memorable, some are mere imitators, but all of them rise or fall on the strength of their actors. “Pride and Glory” is an imitator with the extra punch of a terrific cast. The old-fashioned feel of this movie is so good that I expected to see Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson burst through the door with tommy guns. Instead we see their inheritors – Edward Norton Colin Farrell, and Noah Emmerich. These men manage to turn an ordinary police plot into a searing character study.
The lure of crime dramas often lies in the brick wall that criminals build between crime and family, and the rub usually comes when one of them develops a conscience. What we have here is a retired police officer, Frances Tierney (Jon Voight) who is also patriarch to his sons Ray (Edward Norton) and Frannie (Noah Emmerich), and his son-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell). Francis persuades Ray to take over the hunt for the killers of four cops killed in a drug deal.
Ray’s search leads quickly to his own brother-in-law Jimmy who lives on both sides of the brick wall. Jimmy has only love and loyalty for his wife Megan (Lake Bell) and children. Watch Lake Bell as she creates the wife who lives in happy innocence on the family side of the wall without ever wondering where Jimmy is getting his extra money. What does catch us short is Jimmy’s savage brutality toward anyone who crosses him. Colin Farrell may be overplaying the role, but a man who juggles life as a respected cop, good husband, and torturer/murderer is, by any measure, already on the edge.
It is often said that a corrupt cop is the ultimate betrayal. We see the uniform, we give our trust. There is never any doubt that Ray’s integrity is his bedrock, so he is perhaps the least conflicted, even the least interesting of the characters. We’re with him all the way, wondering only whether he will live or die. As Frannie, Noah Emmerich is the most intriguing of the brothers. Married to Abby (Jennifer Ehle), Frannie’s integrity is vulnerable to the tug of family loyalty. Jennifer Ehle gives a lovely performance as the cancer stricken wife, and director Gavin O’Connor gives this fine pair of actors – Emmerich and Ehle - a scene that wins us so completely that we almost dare anyone to hurt them. Will Emmerich’s Frannie cross the wall?
If all this sounds melodramatic, it most certainly is, but the clichés of police dialogue are wrapped here in authentic neighborhoods, clothes, and accents. The real question is this: in the narrow range of dramatic possibilities, has writer/director O’Connor made us care about his characters? The answer is certainly yes. And if the derivative nature of this one annoys you, just reflect on the many fine actors who have kept the genre in the mainstream.
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