Eric German | Sunday, 14 December 2008

The saga of a police family

Postponing the release of Pride and Glory is understandable in the wake of September 11 and the heroic behaviour of the NYPD at the time, for the film deals with large scale corruption in the NYPD. But postponing it since 2001 is an injustice because, for the most part, it’s a fine film made with commitment and integrity.
The NYPD is outraged when four police officers are killed during a drugs bust gone wrong. Former police chief Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight) insists that his son, Ray (Edward Norton), joins the task force set up. Ray, who’s been avoiding high risk investigations since a bad incident some years previously, reluctantly agrees.
Clues on the crime scene lead him to conclude that most of the killing was done by a sniper-like gunman who was wounded but got away. Ray goes all out to find him but as his investigation deepens, it leads him towards his step brother, Jimmy (Colin Farrell), a police officer, and his brother, Frannie (Noah Emmerich), the police commander in charge of the four killed.
A film involving police corruption may sound overly familiar one but Pride and Glory is no ordinary film and the corruption it deals with is different from the routine one found in most films, though it’s shocking.
On at least one occasion it’s horrifying as it shows Jimmy holding a clothes iron close to the face of a baby whose drug dealer father refuses to talk. Farrell gives a terrifying portrait of Jimmy who’s prone to outbursts of maniacal rage and who’s capable of extreme violence which leaves him unaffected.
Noah Emmerich is wholly convincing as Frannie, the high ranking cop. In such a tough film one is doubly grateful for the tenderness of the scenes he shares with his wife. Jennifer Ehle, whose head is shaved but who’s still beautiful, gives a sensitive supporting performance as the cancer-stricken wife.
Surprisingly, Edward Norton plays Ray in a low key but this makes the regret and revulsion he feels as his investigation unearths the dirt that much more effective and Jon Voight hasn’t been this good in years.
Co-writer/director Gavin O’Connor raises and sustains a high degree of tension almost throughout and it’s all the more remarkable since he makes the film grippingly tense during the dialogue scenes, many of which concern the heated conflicts going on.
This isn’t a film which relies on shootouts, chases and explosions. There’s lots of hard violence but little action. It’s a police family saga more than a police saga and it’s a highly charged drama that’s emotionally hard hitting and thought-provoking.
It’s deeply atmospheric and the dominant feeling is that it’s rooted in authenticity. So it’s not surprising to find that the original script was written by Gavin O’Connor, his brother and NYPD police officer Robert A. Hopes in 1999 as a homage to their police detective father.
At two hours and five minutes it’s a bit overlong though it only becomes tiring towards the end when it also changes from realistic to operatic. The biggest flaw is the way the film ends for it feels anti-climactic when the film is so powerful that it demands a cathartic ending.
This made me leave the cinema feeling disappointed but, in retrospect, the misconceived final part couldn’t wipe out the merit of what had taken place before.

Battling the “unlife”

John Malkovich’s name in the cast could mislead one into thinking that it’s some above average sci-fi or horror flick. Actually, Malkovich disappears after some five minutes and this is the worst film of this or any other year.
The corporation wars of 2707 unearth a machine (it came from outer space!) that converts humans into mutants and a group of soldiers are sent to destroy it. They’re led by Major Hunter (Thomas Jane), have a spiritual director, Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman), and the guys include Asian babe Devon Akoi.
The plot is an incomprehensible muddle as the film jumps across the centuries with only a couple of lines of voiced over narration to fill in the blanks. The sets are tatty and very dimly lit in the hope of hiding the fact that the film was made on a starvation budget.
In the opening war, a mere handful of men stands in for hordes of charging soldiers and director Simon Hunter is always cutting to close-ups of faces or soldiers vomiting. The colour is virtually black and white punctured by only very bright items like Perlman’s red robe.
The few instances of CGI are toy-like, the dialogue and narration are drivel but there are heaps of it because such words are cheap while action, of which there’s hardly any, is expensive.
Actors such as Perlman voice lines like, “Everything comes from God and is of God. The enemy came from outside and as God is life, the enemy is unlife.” But it’s impossible to pass the time by ridiculing it because it’s too gloomy and takes itself too seriously. I was robbed!

The repeaters’ cartoon

The sequel is more of the same. Returning from Madagascar, the plane carrying the animals of the Central Park Zoo crash lands in the African savannah where they find thousands of animals like themselves.
After that brief introduction the film splinters into several fragments purporting to show the situations the members of the animal group get into. These little bits and pieces are cobbled together without ever amounting to anything.
The makers are again notorious in their copying from previous and much better animated films. Besides the borrowing that goes on all the time, when they run out of episodes, they send the animals upstream to find out why the river has dried up- a subplot that was part of one of the Ice Age films if I remember correctly. The result is that one has to put up with a bigger amount of repetition than that usually found in sequels.
Jada Pinkett Smith does a good job in providing the vocal characterisation of Gloria, the hippo and, as Mary the zebra, Chris Rock is better than he was the first time around because he gets most of the film’s few good lines.
But the vocal work of Ben Stiller, as Alex the lion, and David Schwimmer, as Melman the giraffe, are dull and lifeless and so is that of the few newcomers like the late Bernie Mac who voices Zuba, Alex’s father.
Technically it’s a better film and children under ten, whose demands are mainly visual, will love the many animals; the settings, which are now rendered in more detail, the bright colour design and the noise. But this is a children’s film not a family film and any but the most easily pleased adults should find it a dreadful bore.

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