Last year, some dubbed it the year of Philip Seymour Hoffman given his hat-trick of amazingly versatile performances in Charlie Wilson's War, The Savages and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. So, using the same type of criteria, I'd say that 2008 belongs to Colin Farrell.
With a career changing role in the sleeper gem In Bruges-- still my favorite film of the year so far-- as the suicidal hitman growing a conscience while hiding out in Bruges, he managed to make me sit up and take notice for the first time since we'd seen him in Phone Booth. Of course, Bruges followed up his sensitive turn as an unlucky indebted gambler willing to murder to set things right in Woody Allen's equally underrated Cassandra's Dream and now he's back with a fierce portrayal in Pride and Glory. Farrell continually reveals layers with each new role he takes on and with Pride, he seemingly blends together the swaggering bravado of the cocky man from Bruges who is an emotional landmine ready to explode with the devastating portrayal of a man who's dug himself into an overwhelming hole in Dream. In fact, his performance in Pride is so good and so perfectly in tune with the rest of the story that I found myself taking it for granted as I watched.
And instead, I realized I was caught up with the film's moral compass played by Edward Norton as well as the sensitive family man who's torn between the black and white of what's right and wrong when you're a man in blue as portrayed by character actor Noah Emmerich (Beautiful Girls, Miracle). Emmerich reunites with director and friend Gavin O'Connor for the third time (following both Miracle as well as an explosive turn as an abusive tyrant at the beginning of Tumbleweeds which launched both O'Connor and its Oscar nominated star Janet McTeer) in this excellent, atmospheric and moody cop family drama about the NYPD.
Although IMDb research revealed the origins of the story dated back to 2001, after the tragic events of 9/11, the filmmakers and committed stars Mark Wahlberg and Hugh Jackman moved onto other things, wisely realizing that it wasn't the right time for a drama about the moral ambiguities and corruption that occurs sometimes within law enforcement. Following the success of The Departed (which finally found Wahlberg playing an Oscar nominated man with a badge in the Best Picture winning epic), we were flooded with cop dramas but when audiences shied away from last Fall's flawed but impressive We Own the Night (again with Wahlberg) and the even grittier Spring film Street Kings starring Keanu Reeves, Pride and Glory's release date was pushed from last March until today.
Usually when release dates are changed, the subtext is that the studio doesn't have much faith in their product and wants to do more tweaking either in the editing or marketing departments (unless the film is Harry Potter which was delayed purely to make Dark Knight level money next summer) but having just seen O'Connor's Pride this week, I can honestly say that I think placing it in the minds of viewers in the midst of Oscar season was an excellent move and great posturing on behalf of Warner Brothers (who have absorbed Pride's former studio New Line Cinema).
As I've already said, Farrell is simply a marvel but equally so are Norton and Emmerich and I'd say that all three would be worthy of a nomination yet because they all work as a bigger part of an ensemble drama, it'd be hard to make a Best Actor case for any (although they may try for Norton since he's the marquee name and most heroic character). Yet with three fighting for supporting contention, I worry they'll all get lost in the shuffle of what I've always considered to be the best two categories of the Academy Awards-- namely Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
The film centers on a family of New York cops headed up by the patriarch and police Chief Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight) whose two sons, Francis Jr. (Emmerich) and Ray (Norton) have followed in his footsteps along with the husband of his daughter Megan (Lake Bell), Colin Farrell's wilder character Jimmy Egan. After a brutal killing has found four of NYPD's finest dead in a bloody massacre, the chief asks Ray-- who has banished himself from active policing by hiding out in the Missing Person's Department after a horrible tragedy-- to lead the investigation task force. Especially, the chief implores as both a father and Ray's superior that Ray should be there since the deceased were members of the same precinct headed up by his brother Francis where incidentally Jimmy also works. When some of the evidence begins to point in the direction of not just the men in blue but also to the members of his own family, Ray struggles to try and negotiate how to handle the situation in a world where officers take care of their own and "bleed blue" first and foremost.
Yet as director and co-writer Gavin O'Connor and his twin brother and fellow producer Greg note in the press release that as sons of a New York City police officer who grew up in the world of "the deep sense of loyalty" and "family ties--both personal and professional--that bind police officers," they wanted to try and conquer the "blue wall of silence." In doing so, Gavin argued that he desired to "explore the idea of that impenetrable code of honor between cops, and how words like pride and glory can be used to co-opt a good cop into participating in things he knows aren't right. They say 'cops bleed blue'...but outside of that blue wall, within their own families, they bleed red. If those two entities clashed, what would happen? Where would your loyalties lie?" And in using the as "the genesis of the story," Gavin also shared that the "police have no monopoly on closing ranks against those on the outside, especially in the face of corruption" and set out to use his own setting as "a metaphor" to investigate the idea of other institutions including big business corporations and the government who operate under similar self-made codes of conduct.
While admittedly, I feared that it would be another film which stereotyped police officers in a way that just perpetuates the hatred and distrust of the men and women whom we call in our most dire situations, as someone who also grew up around blue and deeply cares about accurate depictions, I felt like the O'Connors did a tremendous job. Namely, they walk the line between telling a good story and representing what really goes on in the world of law enforcement and the tough questions officers must ask themselves at the end of the day, working long hours for thankless wages in a system where criminals continue to walk the street one arrest after another.
Additionally, while normally in police movies-- especially in regards to The Departed-- the family and especially women are typically left out of the mix but above all, Pride is a family story and this isn't the case. British actress Jennifer Ehle (most famous for portraying Elizabeth Bennett in the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice opposite Colin Firth) is extraordinarily good in her supporting role as Francis Jr.'s cancer-stricken wife whose quiet dignity and strength inspire her husband to try and set things right before it's too late. And while admittedly the film ends on a Do the Right Thing vibe and is much grittier than one would assume, especially in a few scenes involving Farrell (one of which drew immature laughter from some audience members who were riddled with shock), it has a distinctly authentic look and feel accentuated by cinematographer Declan Quinn (truly one of the greats) and a memorable score by Mark Isham.
While as a film, The Departed is still a far superior work, I was surprised by how moving this film was and how much it still lingered in my mind throughout the rest of the week as I began appreciating it on different levels. Initially, first I began relishing in Norton's sublime return to making movies after an absence as this is right up there with Norton 2.0 works like The Painted Veil, The Illusionist, and Down in the Valley, plus a moving turn by Emmerich (a great character actor) as well as good ol' Farrell who keeps wowing us film-by-film-by-film here in 2008. When it comes to Farrell, it's not the luck of the Irish; he really is that good.
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