I saw a test print back in LA--I have no idea how long ago, at least two-and-a-half years. I don't know why it's been sitting on the shelf for that long.
When I saw it, years ago, I liked it quite a bit. I felt it had strong performances, I really got into the story, I enjoyed the grit of it, the sparse music, et al. So I was supremely disappointed when nothing-but-negative reviews started popping up, and watching the finished product this weekend gave me a chance to re-consider, try to figure out what changed, and why I thought it was great when everyone else thought it was so crappy.
Bad Writing - okay, I have to concede this, but only partially. The overwhelming tenor of reviews has been that this film is a re-hash of cop-drama cliches. That may be true; I don't know, I've not seen all that many cop dramas. But I will say that the dialogue is generally pretty weak and over-reliant on the word "fuck". I think swearing in a film can be marvelous when used properly, but cuss words are flavor, not substance, and P&G tries to make things important by adding "fucking" to the middle. "Where's my fucking husband?" or "My wife is fucking dying." The characters also had a nasty habit of repeating themselves for emphasis--the above lines were both spoken twice in rapid-fire succession. Not necessary, especially when you have actors capable of speaking volumes with three or four words, why you would burden them down with twenty (five of which are f-bombs), I'll never know.
Under-utilized Jon Voigt - for 9/10ths of the film he's a pesky drunk, yes, but he has one scene in which the Internal Affairs Bureau arrives at his house to arrest his son and he tells them to go away. In the version I saw, he was calm, collected, sincere, and almost cavalier in the way he said it. I raved about his performance. That one line is the reason to hire a great actor to carry it. In the theatrical version, he played it drunk. I'm not 100% sure if they switched takes in the new cut or if my memory has simply sweetened what I saw. Oh well.
Baby-Ironing - what most critics thought was horribly cheesy, I actually found quite effective. It may be a cheap shot, but when Colin Ferrel threatens an infant with a hot iron, everyone in the theater with me gasped.
Fist-Fight Ending - another bit that the critics found to be over-the-top and silly, but I totally got it. Edward Norton confronts his brother-in-law in a bar. How do they handle their grievances? Well, how do brothers deal with conflict? By taking off their jackets and jewelry and beating the ever-loving tar out of each other. I completely buy the logic of that.
Those are the major points of contention. There were a handful of others: the wife with cancer and the incredibly gritty sunless New York City, both of which I felt added and which most critics decried as... whatever. One thing everyone agrees on is that it was powerfully well-acted.
Although I could have done with a bit less screen time for Edward Norton's scar. It's even featured prominently on the poster.