by Mel Valentin
Co-written and directed by Gavin O'Connor ("Miracle," "Tumbleweeds"), "Pride and Glory" is a formulaic, predictable, retrograde urban crime/cop drama that wallows in genre clichés and casual, unreconstructed racism. Clichés are, at least on one level, understandable. Filmmakers, especially mid-level filmmakers short on creativity or originality, often rely on clichés to keep storylines moving. What’s not excusable, however, is when filmmakers absorb outdated, but no less noxious, racist ideas about racial or ethnic groups and regurgitate them on screen uncritically in service of some high-minded ode to law enforcement. Even more surprising, however, is that Edward Norton and Colin Farrell signed on to "Pride and Glory" and, by extension, the ideas it presents and the themes it pushes.After four New York City police officers are shot and killed in an apparently ill-timed raid on a drug dealer’s den, Ray Tierney (Edward Norton), a semi-disgraced, semi-exiled cop who works in the Missing Persons Unit, joins a special task force to investigate the killings. He joins the task force at the insistence of his father and police chief, Francis Tierney, Sr. (Jon Voight). Ray’s older brother, Francis Tierney, Jr. (Noah Emmerich), captained the four men who were shot and killed by the drug dealer and his men. Another cop with the same precinct, Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell), grew up with Ray and Francis Jr. as a member of the Tierney family. Jimmy also married Megan (Lake Bell), Ray and Francis Jr.’s sister. While Francis Jr.’s wife, Abby (Jennifer Ehle), battles cancer, Ray begins the investigation into the murders of the four cops.
"Norton and Farrell should have given this one a pass."
Almost immediately, Ray uncovers links between the drug dealer, Angel Tezo (Ramon Rodriguez), implicated in the murders of the four cops and corrupt police officers within the NYPD, including Ruben Santiago (John Ortiz), Eddie Carbone (Frank Grillo), Kenny Dugan (Shea Whigham), and Jimmy. Ray’s attempts to obtain help from his father and brother initially fail, leaving him alone to track down Tezo and obtain incriminating evidence against Jimmy and the other corrupt cops. Jimmy and his posse, of course, are also hot on Tezo’s trail, hoping to find and silence Tezo permanently before he can incriminate them. On a personal level, Ray’s repeated efforts to reconcile with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Tasha (Carmen Ejogo), fail.
In interviews, O’Conner mentioned that he wanted to pay his respects to the NYPD and his father, a retired NYC detective, through the cop characters in Pride and Glory. He also admitted to being influenced by and wanting to pay homage to 70s’-era urban crime/cop dramas (e.g., The French Connection I and II, Serpico Dog Day Afternoon, The Seven-Ups, Taxi Driver, Prince of the City) and their emphasis on grit, grime, and social realism (all were shot, cinema vérité-style, on location). Thematically, most of these films were concerned with honor, dignity, integrity, and loyalty. Several turned on corrupt cops and the institutions that supported that corruption. Almost all shared a central fascination with extra-legal justice (i.e., good cops using any means necessary against sociopathic criminals or corrupt cops). Many of these films, however, also shared a casual racism aimed at urban minorities, usually blacks or Latinos, who were rarely depicted with nuance or sympathetically.
Paying homage to films that influenced your filmmaking style or thematic concerns is fine, of course. Where O’Conner errs isn’t in following the 70s-era cop drama formula and adding next to nothing to the formula, but in carrying over the casual, uninformed, retrograde racism of 70s-era cop drama into Pride and Glory without minimal self-awareness or criticism. In the world of Pride and Glory, minorities in New York City consist of Latinos, primarily Dominicans, and one or two African Americans (one of the dead cops is African American). Other ethnic groups, even other Latino groups (e.g., Puerto Ricans, Central Americans, Mexicans, and Colombians) don’t seem to exist. The Dominicans in Pride and Glory range, at best, from poor shopkeepers (who actively work for drug dealers) to sociopathic drug dealers and the only Dominican on the police force, whose loyalties are split between the NYPD and his childhood friends.If that sounds like an exaggeration, think again. When Dominican characters speak Spanish to each other, their words aren’t translated on screen. Not translating their dialogue for English-speaking audiences (presumably most moviegoers) makes them the foreign “other” who, by their violent behavior and speech, deserves the police’s abusive, violent response in return. With the exception of the poor shopkeeper and his son, who gives Tierney an important lead and Tierney’s estranged wife, who’s biracial (but who speaks unaccented English), O’Conner does Latinos a huge disservice, all to make his cop characters, including the corrupt ones, more sympathetic than they otherwise would have been. Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. O’Conner. Please take your regressive views on race back to the 1970s where they’ll be accepted with only minor criticism (if any).
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originally posted: 10/24/08 03:08:38