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That’s a wrap, and a two-year wait

John Horn is a Times staff writer

Every movie faces a few obstacles on its journey to the screen. But “Pride and Glory” has been beset by almost every plague imaginable short of locusts: The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a rival police movie that knocked it off the schedule, Nick Nolte’s bum knee, the collapse of a movie studio, the indifference of another, three release dates and even a fight over a studio executive’s actor brother.

On Friday, more than two years after its filming was completed, “Pride and Glory” arrives in theaters with a new lease on life. Given up for dead by New Line Cinema and even shopped to other distributors, the Edward Norton-Colin Farrell crooked cop story has been embraced by the new marketing team at Warner Bros., hopeful that audiences will welcome a gritty drama at a time when titles such as “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” are thriving.

“Sometimes what you think is the worst thing that could happen -- if you are patient and wait it out -- can be the best thing that could happen,” says writer-director Gavin O’Connor. “I am very grateful.”

O’Connor, who also directed 2004’s ice hockey hit “Miracle,” began work on “Pride and Glory” soon after he sold “Tumbleweeds” to Fine Line Features at 1999’s Sundance Film Festival. Working with screenwriter Joe Carnahan (“Narc”), O’Connor crafted a tale of police corruption and family divisions that was partially inspired by the stories O’Connor heard around the dinner table as a kid -- his father, grandfather and uncle all were New York City cops.

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“The seed of the movie . . . was that cops bleed blue and that families bleed red,” O’Connor says. In other words, if policemen do whatever it takes to protect their own, what happens when those officers are also related to one another?

The film’s patriarch is Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight), a police chief whose sons Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) and Ray (Edward Norton) are officers connected to a shooting in which four officers have been gunned down. A group of rogue cops led by Jimmy Egan (Farrell) may be involved in the ambush shooting, but the inquiry is complicated because Jimmy is Ray and Francis Jr.'s brother-in-law.

Originally called “Manhattan North,” it was supposed to be a $10-million Fine Line art-house film. When it was clear it would cost much more (it ultimately cost around $30 million) and have greater commercial potential, the project migrated to parent New Line Cinema, and Hugh Jackman (as Ray) and Mark Wahlberg (as Jimmy) were loosely attached to star. (Nolte would join the cast later as the father.)

Casting wasn’t the only challenge. The studio had put almost all of its eggs into the “Lord of the Rings” basket, and before the first film in the trilogy came out, O’Connor’s movie was hardly a priority. Then Sept. 11 happened.

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In the wake of the terrorist attacks, a movie about crooked New York police officers was more than a long shot -- it was impossible. “It all came to a screeching halt, and I understand that,” O’Connor says.

Several years later, after “Miracle” was released, “Pride and Glory” (as the movie was then called) came back together, particularly because of the support of New Line production chief Toby Emmerich. The film was recast, and O’Connor wanted to put Toby’s brother Noah in the film, having directed him in both “Miracle” and “Tumbleweeds.”

Not wanting to appear to be playing family favorites (and actually wanting a bigger name in the costarring role), Toby Emmerich and New Line opposed O’Connor’s choice of casting his brother, the director says. “It was very difficult to get him in the movie,” O’Connor says of Noah. “They wanted someone who would enhance the value of the film.”

O’Connor ultimately prevailed with Noah, but he soon faced another predicament. Just days before production was to start, Nolte pulled out because his knee had given out. Voight replaced him.

Filmed in early 2006 in New York, “Pride and Glory” went through several versions as O’Connor and New Line tried to arrive at what cut of the film they thought was best. By the middle of 2007, the film was mostly finished, and a fall release date was planned.

But at 2007’s Cannes Film Festival, James Gray’s New York police drama “We Own the Night” was shown to distributors (including New Line), and Sony Pictures not only bought the film but immediately announced it would release the movie that fall, backed by a healthy marketing push. While there were divisions within New Line over whether both “We Own the Night” and “Pride and Glory” could attract moviegoers so close to each other, New Line decided to move “Pride and Glory” into early 2008.

New Line soon came under increased pressure to deliver hits when its December 2007 debut of “The Golden Compass” failed to approach the performance of “The Lord of the Rings.” In an effort to release movies only with theoretically huge audience appeal, the studio postponed the release dates for several films, including “Pride and Glory.”

When Toby Emmerich tried to go to bat for the film, fellow New Line executives would say he was only looking after his brother, according to several executives at the studio. “One of the disadvantages of having a close relative in a movie is that people can perceive your loyalties are split,” Toby Emmerich says.

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Then New Line was absorbed by Warner Bros. “We got inherited by a studio that would never have made the movie,” O’Connor says. “They wanted to sell it.”

Although several distributors kicked “Pride and Glory’s” tires, there were no takers, especially because the asking price was the film’s entire cost. “No one pays full pop,” O’Connor says. “It was insane.”

But when Warner Bros. named Sue Kroll as its new worldwide marketing chief in January, “Pride and Glory” was resuscitated. “We were dead,” O’Connor says, “and then Sue Kroll saw the film and said, ‘I love this movie. It works.’ And she became this movie’s angel.”

Warner Bros. inherited several New Line movies, with very good results so far. “Sex and the City” was a huge hit, and “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Appaloosa” have both done well.

“It’s a tough time for movies that are challenging and heavy,” O’Connor says. “Do audiences want something like this? Or do they want to go to escapist fare?”

Having made it this far, O’Connor is hopeful “Pride and Glory” can still deliver.

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john.horn@latimes.com

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