It's not true that Hollywood keeps making the same dark, grubby-looking New York cop movie over and over again. It only seems that way.
The newest, Gavin O'Connor's "Pride and Glory," in particular, is the fraternal twin of last year's "We Own the Night" by James Gray. In that one, Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg were brothers on the NYPD fighting the Russian mob while their disappointed, righteous Daddy, Robert Duvall, looked on from higher up in the department.
In this one, Edward Norton and Noah Emmerich are brothers on the NYPD, Colin Farrell is their cop brother-in-law and Jon Voight is Daddy, a cop high enough on the force to wear expensive, blue camel hair overcoats.
Anyone who actually sees the movies, of course, will have no trouble telling them apart. "We Own The Night" -- a better film -- was memorable for Eva Mendes as Phoenix's sensationally hot girlfriend and a rainstorm car chase impressively terrifying because no one could see a thing through the frantic windshield wipers.
"Pride and Glory" will go down in film history as the first film in 15 years to remind you that Jon Voight is a terrific film actor and not just a well-paid clown, a throwaway authority figure and Angelina Jolie's genetic begetter. It will also go down in film history as the movie in which Colin Farrell menaces the face of a swaddled infant with a hot steam iron.
Spoiler alert be stuffed, you really need to be forewarned about that one -- especially if you're a youngish male trying to impress a girl on date night. My guess is that scene is quite possibly an argument waiting to happen in the car ride home.
On the other hand, movie historians -- with or without portfolio -- will put that scene on the same cinematic despicability list that contains a cackling Richard Widmark pushing a little old lady in a wheelchair down the cellar stairs in "Kiss of Death" and a tanned, cold-eyed Henry Fonda smilingly murdering a tow-headed urchin in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in The West."
It's like this: there are some really REALLY bad cops in New York's 31st precinct. They think nothing of taking payoffs from the local drug thugs or of robbing the petty cash drawers of local bodegas. Or of torturing poor families assembled for Christmas dinner, up to and including the horrific aforementioned menacing (a scene, I suspect, Farrell's fellow actors will good-naturedly tease him about for a good part of the rest of his career. A cheery lot, actors, if occasionally not very deep up in the genetic genius pool.)
While all this is going on in the 31, their commanding officer is the brother-in-law (Noah Emmerich) of the cop played by Farrell. He's more than a little distracted by a wife (Jennifer Ehle, daughter of Meryl Streep) who is dying of cancer. What that means is that Ehle -- nothing if not superb and a serious actress in the family tradition -- has shaved her head to simulate the effects of chemotherapy.
Everything hits the fan when four cops from the precinct are murdered on the job and the CO's brother (played by Edward Norton) is named to the investigating task force by their father, the big shot captain (Voight.)
It's only a matter of time when the full extent of the corruption comes out and is deepened, while the innocent cops discover how they've been unknowingly up to their badges in the vilest professional brothers a cop could have.
I'm making a little sport of this, true, but it's a pretty good movie, with tough, powerful performances all around, which is especially heartening in the case of Voight. He actually gets a chance, for a change, to show some range from righteous wrath to boozy grandpa, totally snockered at Christmas dinner before the full three-generation family is even assembled and the ham and mashed potatoes have even hit the table.
Care was taken to make sure "Pride and Glory" is a grubby-looking movie -- none of the picturesque grubbiness of the great Sidney Lumet cop movies ("Serpico," "Prince of the City," "Dog Day Afternoon") which were made by a film master who, above all, loved New York. This movie has everyday street grubbiness from a director -- Gavin O'Connor -- whose entire real family is filled with New York cops.
It's a procedural then, a continent away but narratively not all that far away from TV's "The Shield." The good cops do what they do, while their lives with women tend to suffer. The happily married bad cop leads his foul brand of corrupt cops through deepening malfeasance and the occasional fleeting memory that "pride and glory" are supposed to be possible on the job.
Some suicides along the way -- real and career versions -- remind them.
Some of the tough cop dialogue is pretty savory:
Cop son to hard-drinking cop father: "Have a few nips?"
Dad: "A glass of scotch, officer."
Son: "Just one?"
Dad: "Yeah. I used the same glass."
It's dark and moody and solidly acted and if an absolutely absurd family fistfight in a deserted bar hadn't broken out at the end of the film, I might have found another half star for it.
Some dialogue from the crowd on the way out of the screening from a husband and wife behind me:
Wife: "Boring. I'd give it five out of 10."
Husband: "You're crazy. It's a nine out of 10 for sure."
But then, you can't always trust your fellow moviegoers. I actually overheard, from another couple emerging from another movie at the multiplex, one young man actually telling the woman he was with "I hate Diane Lane."
It ought to be illegal to say things like that, but I guess it isn't.
PRIDE AND GLORY
Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Noah Emmerich and Jennifer Ehle in Gavin O'Connor's cop movie about a family of New York's finest caught up in police corruption. Rated R for violence, language and one memorably cruel and horrifying scene of menacing. Opening Friday in area theaters.