“Pride and Glory” opens with cops battling against cops and ends the same way. IN the first case, it’s a championship football game, with New York’s finest triumphing over a team from Detroit. In the latter, it’s the inevitable confrontation of a (literal) good cop vs. a bad one. The story has the air of classic tragedy: a family is torn apart as a desperate elder watches all but helplessly while younger siblings confront and, finally, doom each other to disgrace and death. But it strives for a harsh realism, too. Rated “R,” the film’s violence and profanity will limit the audience to whom it appeals.
So will the plot, which screenwriter Joe Carnahan and writer/director Gavin O’Connor craft to lead the viewer from confusion to gradual clarity. While the football game is being played, four NYPD officers are shot during a drug raid. They are all from a precinct headed by Francis Tierney, Jr. (Noah Emmerich), the elder son of Inspector Francis, Sr. (Jon Voigt). The senior Tierney convinces his other son, Ray (Edward Norton), to leave his desk job and join a task force to solve the murders.
A brother-in-law, Jimmy Egan (Colin Ferrell), reacts particularly strongly to the deaths of his fellow officers. As the movie unwinds, we discover that Jimmy’s grief is mixed with guilt. He and several other cops try to block the task force from bringing the full truth to light. By their efforts, they cost others their jobs, their reputation, and ultimately, their lives.
But this summary of the events only scratches the story’s surface. The themes of loyalty to and protection of family, as variously defined, pervade and deepen the action. Brothers confront brothers, a father opposes his sons, even as he tries and fails to save them and preserve the reputation of his family—both his offspring and his fellow police.
Voigt and Norton, two stellar actors from distinctly different generation, are excellent in their scenes together. The former plays a more nearly stereotypical role, the alcoholic Irish senior cop who is both loving and domineering, trying to unearth the truth, then to cover it back up. The latter is engaged in the opposite task, so Norton has the more complex role. Ray has his own demons, a questionable reputation and a troubled relationship with his wife, who is bent on divorcing him. As his elder brother, Emmerich is also solid: a precinct leader on his way up the ladder of command, he is also a loving husband whose wife (movingly played by Jenifer Ehle in a small but crucial role) has terminal cancer.
Director/writer/producer O’Connor seems to know the police world well, and he is sensitive to the conflicts that both unite and destroy families. (The story is ironically set at Christmas time, and the New Year is far from happy.) Cinematographer Declan Quinn sustains the visual interest throughout, considerably aided by film editors Lisa Churgin and John Gilroy. Mark Isham’s understated musical score often counterpoints their visuals and constantly works toward originality, rather than bombast.
“Pride and Glory” will decidedly not please everyone. The opposite of a feel-good flick, it probes the depth of “family values,” but the probe is often like a finger in an open wound. What healing there is at the end is muted: honor has been preserved, but at great cost to the several families involved. The title is deeply ironic, the action and outcome promising neither pride nor glory for the troubled, extended house of Tierney. Still, the film is well-crafted and acted, certainly worth attending.