“Pride and Glory” – Shamelessly Typical – 2 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

You’ve seen multi-generational, good cop/bad cop tales like “Pride and Glory” before, though perhaps not so predictable and murky. Boy is it gloomy. N.Y.C. streetlights barely illuminate the night; the daytime winter setting is steely gray. Even in the dark of a magazine crime reporter’s office it’s unlikely Scrooge will allow another coal tossed in the stove.

One wishes a sit-down with director Gavin O’Connor. ‘Tell me, sir, the dreariness …is it a metaphor for all the sorrow and misery in the world, while also a stark cold reminder that far too much of the Bronx remains a thug and drug infested killing field? If so, we get it. Only thing, no offense, it’s more depressing than exciting.’

The sordid and seamy tale of police corruption grows beleaguering, its cynicism almost a genre unto itself by now. We’ve come to know the characters. Here it’s Jon Voight as Francis Tierney, Sr., big honcho in the N.Y.P.D., proud not only of his two cop sons, played by Noah Emmerich and Edward Norton, but a son-in-law (Colin Farrell) as well.

The tale opens with the slaughtering of four police officers under the charge of Mr. Emmerich’s Francis Tierney, Jr. by a notorious drug king. Subsequently heading a special task force investigating the case only because of Dad’s beseeching—“This’ll make up for Mott Haven”—Edward Norton’s Ray Tierney soon suspects a rat…in blue.

Yep, it looks like someone in the Department tipped off the pushers about the raid. There will be much discourse and bleating about brother betraying brother. Of course it dredges up the same old garbage. Remember Mott Haven? Well, you couldn’t. It’s fiction.

But anyway, that was the last time Ray was compromised by his less upright comrades, regretting to this day his protective testimony before a grand jury. So it’s deja vu all over again, except this go-round the internal scourge may be connected not only by fraternal allegiance, but blood. Thus evolves a treatise about loyalty in the trenches.

It’s a given. Policemen, probably more than most other occupations, suffer conflicts understood only by their confederates. Factor in the danger, the constant exposure to life’s underbelly and a public that frequently sees them as the other side of the same coin. It’s enough to make you want to stop playing hero, or so goes the rationalization.

But not Ray. At least we hope not. OK, so Dad drinks a little now, and maybe expects a bit much of his boys…. the Tierney tradition, y’know. But for the most part he inspired them to a life of service. The question is, just how much looking the other way is acceptable before you have to admit you’re just part of a big charade?

Expect no great philosophical deductions. Mostly a cliché to hang its hat on, director Gavin O’Connor’s plot is more exploitative than commiserate. While the duplicitous cops rationalize their wholesale butchery of undesirables and chant a mantra of the end justifying the means, the terror they wreak smacks of police state.

Equally disappointing, since we learn early on just who the disingenuous bulls are, there isn’t much mystery here, either. Though, anyone who can discern anything in this miasma of dim lights and decrepit alleyways deserves some sleuthing credit. But all the dark filters in the world can’t eclipse the glare of mediocre writing.

Even the bloodthirsty are in for a let down. Yes, there’s plenty red dye #3 spilled and one bathtub torture scene alone surely earns the movie its R-rating. But by today’s slice-and-dice standards it’s sheer entry level. Too bad also for the evil for evil’s sake crowd. With nary a Professor Moriarty or Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men”) among them, these bad guys are just miserable wretches.

One ray of sunshine, however, is the acting. It’s obvious to the four principals that no performance could redeem the dispiriting screenplay. Anything extra, or perceived as grandstanding, would surely boomerang. Still, they are able to take advantage of the script’s occasional safe havens.

Indeed, while it’s said that playing drunks is easy, Voight nonetheless adds his own brand of understated resonance. Dilemma envelops Mr. Emmerich’s face. And one particularly heartfelt, father-son squabble between Norton and Voight makes you wish the film were better. But it is not.

Which leaves us with only a trough of bad behavior, an endless landscape of poverty inflamed by our Prohibition-like, gangster-breeding war on drugs. More affecting than the drab storyline, this tangential muckrake begs our own detective work. Who profits from the perennial ghetto? Follow the money. Like the film, it doubtfully leads to any “Pride and Glory.”

“Pride and Glory,” rated R, is a New Line Cinema release directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Jon Voight, Edward Norton and Noah Emmerich. Running time: 130 minutes

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