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Eugene Weekly : Movies : 10.30.08





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Brothers in Arms

Crooked is as crooked does

by Jason Blair 

PRIDE AND GLORY: Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Written by O’Connor and Joe Carnahan. Cinematography, Declan Quinn. Music, Mark Isham. Starring Edward Norton, Colin Ferrell, Noah Emmerich, Jon Voight and Jennifer Ehle. New Line, 2008. R. 125 minutes.

Misery suits Edward Norton. The actor has made, over the course of 25 films, exactly two lighthearted comedies: Everyone Says I Love You, in which he sings for Woody Allen, and Keeping the Faith, in which he competes for Jenna Elfman with Ben Stiller. (We won’t count the dark comedy Death to Smoochy, in which Norton plays the titular role in a rhino suit.) Secrecy and pain are Norton specialties, along with a brand of toughness that seems almost comedy-proof. From American History X to The Illusionist, his intensity is Napoleonic; he’s the little guy who, once your back is turned, threatens to blow up the world. Which begs the question of why, with a surfeit of talent at his disposal, Norton would chose a project like Pride and Glory, a conventional cop drama he balances with a layered if tactful performance, but which ultimately overwhelms him with coarseness and mediocrity. 

Colin Ferrell and Edward Norton in Pride and Glory

Norton plays Ray Tierney, an enlightened officer in a family of cynical NYPD cops. Ray is on the mend from an episode two years earlier; we get the sense he did something unpleasant, but it’s clear that his conscience isn’t settled. When four cops are ambushed in what should have been a straightforward raid, Ray’s father Frances (Jon Voight), himself a retired cop, convinces Ray to join a task force investigating the killings. The trouble is, before you can say We Own the Night, Ray stumbles upon evidence that might implicate his brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Ferrell), a vicious door-darkener of a cop under the command of Ray’s older brother Franny (Noah Emmerich). While Ray builds his case, these modern-day Cartwrights gallop from one episode to another. Frances Sr. couldn’t be happier — he says so, drunk over dinner. That must be where the pride comes from. The glory never shows up.

What isn’t a cliché in Pride and Glory is likely to be a thin metaphor, like the fact that Ray lives alone aboard a boat that appears to be gradually sinking. But mostly the film is a makeshift shrine to cliché. Lines like “I gotta do this my way” and “I need to do what’s right for me” evoke silent-era sensibilities — surely, silence is preferable to that patter — while enduring symbols of toughness and grit are elevated to almost holy status. Coffee, for example, that most urbane and gentrified beverage, takes on quasi-mystical importance in Pride and Glory, as if Folgers is the ambrosia of peace and negotiation. 

I kept imagining what the women of Pride and Glory would say, had they been allowed to speak. Instead, director Gavin O’Connor (Tumbleweeds) leads this man-only affair into menacing predictability. In a role originally cast for Nick Nolte, Jon Voight seems leaden and defeated. I found myself wondering just what Nolte might have accomplished here, which arguably is an insult to Mr. Voight. Colin Ferrell, so nuanced earlier this year in the highly overlooked In Bruges, overacts here as he often does when the material doesn’t provide him restraint. Emmerich is solid, if a little ponderous, as a lieutenant in way, way over his head. Only Norton comports himself well. Norton’s face, so full of suffering and anger, is aging as beautifully — and as wickedly — as DeNiro’s did. Another run of great films and Norton may reach DeNiro’s territory. For now he’s stuck in Pride and Glory.