“Four cops down: two dead, two likely. An NYPD drug bust has gone horribly wrong.”
That’s how this gripping drama opens. Not since the likes of Al Pacino in Serpico has there been a movie anything at all like Pride And Glory. This film doesn’t pull punches, and it looks about as real as any police drama I’ve seen anywhere before. Filmed entirely on location in the seedy streets of New York City’s Washington Heights district, there is enough gritty realism to go around. Director Gavin O’Connor not only used these very dank and atmospheric streets, but he also employed his extras and some of the key cast members from the community. If nothing else, you can’t criticize this film for not taking us into the street and watching the action from street level.
The film opens with the aforementioned drug bust gone bad. A task force is soon assembled, and it is led by detective Ray Tierney (Norton). Ray has a bit of a conflict of interest; in fact he has several. His father (Voight) is a high ranking detective who pushed him into the position, in the hopes of furthering Ray’s career and possibly maintaining some control over the investigation. Ray’s brother, Francis Jr. (Emmerich) was the commander for the downed officers. There are also plenty of problems in his command that might be related to the slaughter. His brother-in-law, Jimmy (Farrell) is a member of the tight knit group that the fallen officers were also a part of. Whatever they might have been into, there is a good chance that Jimmy’s in just as deep. Finally, Ray himself is trying to climb out of a black hole caused by a shooting in his own past, which has halted his meteoric rise to the top. There are 4 divergent interests, 4 dead cops, 1 high profile case. You do the math. As Ray digs deeper into the facts leading up to the slayings, what he finds becomes increasingly disturbing. He finds himself forced to choose between family, the police department, and the truth. Where will his loyalties fall? It’s a cinch that there are those who will do anything to keep him in line, even frame him for murder. Nice to have family watching your back, ain’t it? It’s a page turner of a drama that will leave you on the edge of your seat. If you’re looking for a tidy and clean ending, this is not the film for you. It might not be totally satisfying, but the film ends the way it must. It ends well, as endings go. It’s brutal, and the squeamish will want to look away.
I was very impressed with how well this multi-faceted and complicated script wove itself into a cohesive story that was relatively easy to follow. Seldom does a film go in so many directions, each as important as the other, and allow itself to be followed with minimal effort. There are two very distinct, yet remarkably similar worlds. There is the ultra gritty world of these front lines cops and the world of this family, each complete with a complex series of loyalties, history, and dynamic relationships. This is a thinker film all the way. You won’t be able to sleepwalk your way through it and get any kind of satisfaction at the conclusion. You are effortlessly guided through incompatible images with little in the way of transition. You can be watching a very normal family Christmas meal and in moments bear witness to the most brutal of murders. The characters drop F bombs like raindrops on the streets of Washington Heights. But at no time does the violence or language feel gratuitous. And while the family ties this film together, giving it its foundation, it is on these rough streets that Pride And Glory truly delivers the primo goods.
These goods are delivered by a talented cast that manages to inhabit the parts. No question Ed Norton is the driving personality here. From looking at the extras, you discover this was true both on and off the screen. He’s a volatile actor, and he brings every bit of that explosiveness to the character of Ray. You get the sense that this was not a “happy” set and was likely never a pleasant place to be. The result was worth it, at least for us who get the gifts without having been through the war. Next in intensity has to be Colin Farrell as Jimmy. Jimmy’s not a nice guy and might be as close to the film’s villain as we get. But don’t make the mistake of approaching this movie in terms of good guys versus bad guys. There’s enough gray in this film to fill a Seattle sky. Farrell reminded me of Robert DeNiro a lot here. No, I’m not comparing skills. He carried himself with that Bobby D swagger we’ve come to know and love. He even offers up the kind of grin that I once thought only DeNiro could give. Far and away Farrell’s best role to date. Nothing else is close. Noah Emmerich is surprisingly good here as well. I never considered him a great actor; perhaps skill brings out skill. Whatever the reason, Emmerich, as Ray’s brother Francis, is the sleeper role in the film. Finally, props to John Voight, who entered the film just days before shooting when Nick Nolte needed surgery at the last minute, forcing him out of the mix. I hate to wish anyone bad luck, but Nick’s loss was our gain. Is there anyone as emotional as Voight working in the business today?
Pride And Glory is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is as street gritty as a movie gets. It’s often dark, supported by exceptional black levels. Colors don’t pop, and they’re not supposed to. Contrast is perfect, allowing for a sharp image and a stark balance of darkness and light. Most of that light is minimal source lighting that offers a rare overwhelming effect of atmosphere here. This thing looks as real as a standard DVD can get. I would love to view this film in high definition.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is yet another example of wonderful creation of atmosphere. The score is relatively minimalist so that it never distracts from the movie. Dialog is perfectly placed. There are a few moments your sub will remind you that it’s there. This film moves around quickly in mood, and this audio presentation does an admirable job of keeping up. It can be painfully quiet one moment only to erupt into explosive violence the next.
This is a 2-disc set with the film on the first disc. The second disc offers the following:
Source Of Pride – Making Pride And Glory: This over one hour feature is a bit painful to watch all at once. Director O’Connor whines more than I cared to hear him. The filming looks like a complete mess. It doesn’t appear that anyone got along; although O’Connor and Norton attempt to downplay their fights, it’s clear by this feature how frustrated and exhausted they all were. The film ran over budget and over schedule. The script was never locked, and the film had no ending written until literally days before it was shot. It’s a mystery to me how something so obviously messed up turned into such a sweet film.
Digital Copy: You get a code to download a portable copy of the film.
Keeping it real appears to have been the motto here. I ended up really liking this film, but this is one of those rare occasions when I wished I hadn’t ever watched the extra feature. I got the idea that maybe I shouldn’t have liked it because it was so obviously a screwed up affair. I think what saved it was easily the cast. I get the impression there was a larger than average amount of improv here, at least for this kind of a drama. Perhaps the “trial by fire” model best explains what happened here. Struggles can produce greatness. “It’s the nature of things.”