Every cop is Irish – not by birth or marriage; nothing superficial like that – but Irish where it counts: heart, fists, raw eyes, dirty mouth. WASP cops are counterfeit. You can’t cry and be a man if you’re a WASP. You can’t get in a “scrap” if you’re a WASP (for WASP’s, a “scrap” will always be assault and battery). Drinking is always a “problem” for a WASP. This isn’t to say all cops have to be white (being Irish), only that they need to be Men in a messy, violent, poetic way that’s stereotypically Irish. You can’t play golf and be a cop, is the gist. In the new cop movie, Pride and Glory, the NYPD is so Irish it’s a wonder they don’t piss Guinness.
The story is about police corruption, and since it’s Irish police corruption that means GUILT. Colin Farrell plays a crooked cop whose under-the-table shenanigans result in four NYPD officers getting killed. Farrell’s on-screen brother-in-law, Edward Norton, is assigned to the case. Norton doesn’t know, at the outset, that Farrell is behind the killings, but as men with names like Manny and Jimmy and Eddie line the morgue and people clamour about “the Department!” like it was their first-born, it falls to Norton to take Farrell down.
The movie begins at an American football game. Grown men say manful “I-love-yous” then wallop the shit out of one another. The movie-savvy may smell a metaphor. Yes, there will be women in this movie. One of them will even have cancer. But this is a man’s film. If men are at home with their wives it’s because the bars are closed. If a woman gets a line it’s because the man needs to be reminded of something. Witness Jennifer Ehle – shaving her head for what she doubtless thought would be more than a two scene role – telling Noah Emmerich: “I need you to be that man”, and Emmerich nodding, thinking perhaps: “She shaved her head for this?”
Colin Farrell – not the star (ostensibly), but knowing he’s the one who gets to threaten a baby with a steam iron – drinks the role of villain. Where Alexander left him limp and Miami Vice gave him a bad haircut, in Pride and Glory he’s f—in’ IRISH. He cries manful tears in at least two scenes; punches everyone he meets; loves his wife and kids… he even looks tough in a bobbled sweater. Somehow, Farrell has the wrong energy to play the hero. The whole haunted, Irish, laugh-and-a-joke then a weep-and-a-fistfight thing isn’t exactly Tom Cruise. Farrell’s better killing people out of greed or crinkled righteousness than out of heroism. His boy’s eyes are his best asset; brimming with need, hurt, toughness and vanity.
Edward Norton, as ever, thinks low-key is best. He plays the kind of cop who became a cop because it’s the family business. He knows Farrell’s gonna get the baby-threatening scene, so he concentrates on playing the family Serpico. There’s the usual smart, Kevin Spacey-ishness to his act. Not that he does anything wrong, but he doesn’t wow you either the way he did in American History X or Fight Club. This is more the Norton we’ve come to know since Red Dragon: the guy who’s snide but honourable, tough even though he doesn’t look tough. It may be me, but I could swear he looks envious when he hugs Jennifer Ehle at the family Christmas (thinking perhaps: “Why didn’t I get to shave my head?”)
At the end of Pride and Glory, there’s a disclaimer to make sure we don’t confuse these drunken, tragic, leather-fisted, pseudo-Irishmen with the real NYPD. Even if we want to. The real NYPD is, of course, like any police department in America, probably not so given to people clamouring about “the Department!” like it was their first-born, or to officers’ drinking heavily, or officers’ fighting, or doing anything that would make men who don’t drink or fight or clamour… want to be cops. That’s why we have cop movies, for WASPs. If you’re not Irish at heart, you need cop movies. Like an IV drip of heart and fists, they’re a dose of manliness for men who play golf.