Pride and Glory features all the set pieces of a gritty police drama. There are good cops, bad cops, ambiguous authority figures, criminals, and innocent bystanders who serve excellently as both pawns of the others and when the time comes, collateral damage. Screenwriter and director Gavin O’Connor, the son of a New York City police officer, claims that the film is unique in its ultra-realistic presentation. Indeed, he somehow is able to showcase all the horrible, bloody things that could possibly happen when the aforementioned set pieces get together to have a party and a shoot-out. However, these character archetypes seem to contain little more than blood and tears that flow freely for the single purpose of conveying the “harsh reality” of police work.
The plot follows New York City police officers Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell) and Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) through their investigation of a police shooting. Inevitably, the investigation becomes complicated as cops are linked to criminals and the troubled pasts of all involved begin to catch up with them. For his part, Officer Tierney must contend with the unmet expectations of his top-brass father (a noteworthy Jon Voight) and his guilt about a past incident that has left him physically and psychologically scarred. This should all start to sound very familiar by now. The plot also digresses into the lives of the multiple Tierney family members, but these peripheral characters have barely any emotional appeal because their scenes seem very disconnected from the rest of the film. In fact, most of the subplots involving family members of police officers are left unresolved at the end of the film, as if to confirm the suspicion that these characters are entirely superfluous.
It is clear from the beginning that Officer Tierney fills the role of the good cop who can never lose sight of his higher sense of morality. He is also apparently the one cop on the entire police force who can and will communicate with Hispanic New Yorkers instead of immediately resorting to beating or intimidating them. In this way, Tierney represents all the better qualities of police officers that distinguish them from ruthless mercenaries. But he is almost impossible to sympathize with because his rigid morality leaves him with simple and boring character motivations.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jimmy Egan fulfills the role of the essentially corrupt cop. This character is as simplistic as his counterpart but is slightly more interesting with the proper application of shock value. One scene that is particularly harrowing includes a baby, a hot iron, and a genuinely chilling performance by Colin Farrell. In this regard, the film has its shining moments when the ultra-realistic presentation is able to draw the audience into the immediate action. Judicious use of zooms and focus shifts also help to create suspense and disorientation in these scenes, but these moments are few and far between and fail to compensate for the almost comically predictable plot and characters.
In a Q&A session at the Chicago International Film Festival after the screening of the film, O’Connor said, “When we went to shoot the movie we were changing things all the time.” It shows. There are undertones of racial conflict between police officers and civilians. There are vague suggestions that families suffer because of the type of work that a police officer must do, but none of these more complex themes are ever fleshed out. The basic message is pretty clear from the first 10 minutes of the film. People are good or evil. For the most part, it’s pretty clear who is on which side. And it isn’t hard to figure out who will win in the end, which comes so inevitably and effortlessly that you wonder if O’Connor was intentionally depriving his characters of the ability to make important decisions. Only those who are absolutely sick of Law and Order reruns and are craving even a barely functional police drama might be satisfied by this film.