Cliches curse family of cops
WHEN in doubt, film and television producers turn to cops: from the earliest days of cinema, films about the police have been churned out on a regular basis. The lawmen can be calmly dedicated and self-sacrificing ( The Blue Lamp) or comical ( The Keystone Cops and their many successors); these days they’re more often than not corrupt. So it’s no surprise that
which has been gathering dust on the shelf for a considerable time ( it bears a 2007 copyright), looks very familiar; there are elements of John Singleton’s Four Brothers ( 2005) and strong similarities to the more recent James Gray film, We Own the Night . Both were a great deal better than this.
On the surface, it seems promising, not least because of a strong cast that includes Jon Voight as a veteran Irish-American cop Francis Tierney, who has risen to the position of Chief of Manhattan Detectives, and Edward Norton and Noah Emmerich as his two sons, Raymond and Francis Jr, who are both members of the force.
According to the screenplay by Joe Carnahan and director Gavin O’Connor, this police unit is clannish, self-protective and mildly corrupt, information which is neither fresh nor startling. Francis Sr’s daughter Megan ( Lake Bell), is married to yet another cop, Jimmy Eagan ( Colin Farrell), a wild card whose behaviour triggers predictable strain within the family.
This is not a film that finds something new to say on the subject of police who protect one another when they should be protecting society; nor does it bring any freshness to the parallel theme of brother against brother.
But even if these cliches had been given new insights in the screenplay, O’Connor’s approach to the material was going to be problematic. Not only does Declan Quinn provide some unnecessary queasy-cam photography ( Raymond lives on a boat which is constantly rocking), O’Connor seems to relish the violence and sordidness to excess. The dialogue is filled with expletives, the violence is crude, and there’s a horrible scene in which a baby is threatened with a hot iron; this is one of the nastier movie moments in recent memory.
The story unfolds during the Christmas holidays and starts when four cops, under the command of Francis Jr, are killed during a drug bust that goes wrong: it seems that somebody inside the department tipped off the villains. Ray, who has been working on missing persons files since some ( dimly explained) problem in his recent past, is persuaded by his father to take over the investigation into what went wrong. It’s no surprise, to the audience at least, that the trail quickly leads to Ray’s brother, Francis, who, if not directly implicated, has certainly done some covering up to protect his brother-in-law.
From then on the film follows an utterly predictable course of familial and professional conflict, though the climax — which borrows heavily from traditional western movies — is pretty ludicrous. The one attempt at originality is to depict the families of these so-called protectors of the public in more depth than usual, particularly the wife of Francis Jr, Abby ( Jennifer Ehle), who has terminal cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. But in the end this emphasis on Abby’s suffering and her husband’s agony over her illness seems a bit like special pleading.
The actors in Pride and Glory do their best with this cliched material, but the film is so grim, ugly and miserable that it’s difficult to sympathise with even the most positive characters.
* * * FROM the supposedly grim reality of the world of the police in Pride and Glory it comes as a slight relief to experience the graphic novel fantasy of in which a murdered policeman returns as a masked crime fighter: more familiar material. Will Eisner’s comic strip was first published in newspapers in the early 1940s and has been brought to the screen by Frank Miller, also author of the famous comic book series on which 2005’ s Sin City was based ( a sequel is in the works). Miller uses the same graphic design for The Spirit : the film is essentially in black and white, with flashes of red, such as the hero’s luminous neck-tie, used for dramatic effect.
Miller’s approach to the material couldn’t be more different from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight , last year’s best comic-strip adaptation. Where Nolan took the themes seriously, Miller is content to camp them up in an annoying, knowing way. The dialogue is excruciating and the nudge-nudge visual jokes overdone. In the process good actors, including Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the villainous Octopus, and Scarlett Johansson, as his mistress Silken Floss, are encouraged to overact embarrassingly, while Gabriel Macht, in the title role, is a blank page.
Arrogantly assuming that his audience is familiar with the characters, Miller begins with some incomprehensible action in which the nattily dressed Macht, Fedora firmly in place, leaps across the rooftops of Central City to a rendezvous with his nemesis, which takes place in some sort of muddy river.
After an inconclusive encounter, the film pauses to explore, in puerile flashback, the teenage romance between Denny Colt ( Johnny Simmons), the future Spirit, and winsome Sand Saref ( Seychelle Gabriel); Sand will grow up into the voluptuous Eva Mendes and give the masked hero lots of grief.
There is no shortage of beautiful women involved: Sarah Paulson’s doctor and Stana Katic’s policewoman both have designs on The Spirit, though he remains true — as he keeps telling us — to his one true love: the city itself. Just to compound the clunky borrowing from legendary characters, there’s even a lady in the lake ( Jaime King), though her part in the proceedings remains murky.
Silly and shallow, The Spirit nevertheless looks great: Miller’s background as an artist was undoubtedly an important factor in achieving the striking visual effects. It’s just when the human characters dominate the action that the film sinks like a stone.