Can there really be any life left in the dirty-cop movie? Surprisingly, yes. Maybe because he co-wrote the script with Joe Carnahan ("Narc"), and possibly because he's the son of a New York City cop himself, director Gavin O'Connor has imbued "Pride and Glory" with a gutty street realism that seems more than just a stylistic cliché, and a family-centered focus that lends resonance to the picture's themes of betrayal and loss.
It helps to have top actors in this sort of genre exercise, and O'Connor has recruited a sharp cast. Edward Norton plays Ray Tierney, a onetime narc now in self-imposed exile on the drab missing-persons beat. Ray's past involvement in an ethically dodgy operation has left him deeply disillusioned (and in the process of being divorced by his wife). He has no desire to return to the street. But when four police officers are killed in a screwed-up drug bust, Ray's father, Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight), implores him to come onboard an investigation into what went wrong. ("I want cops we can trust," Dad says, a bit cryptically.) Hitting the street again, Ray starts asking questions of various Hispanic thugs and their wretched women (Ray has taken the trouble to learn Spanish) and examining overlooked evidence. Soon he comes to the conclusion that the drug gang that killed the cops was tipped off about the raid by an informant inside the police department.
Before long, to his deep dismay, Ray begins looking at his older brother, Franny (Noah Emmerich), a police inspector, in an alarming new light. And he grows ever more certain that his brother-in-law, Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell), and Jimmy's two partners, Carbone (Frank Grillo) and Dugan (Shea Whigham), have turned into a corrupt and murderous rogue unit.
The movie sets itself apart from the usual run of cop flicks in its emotional details. Franny is already tormented by the impending death of his wife, Abby (Jennifer Ehle), who's wasting away from cancer; the discovery of his partial complicity in enabling Jimmy's depredations (by turning a blind eye to them) would destroy him not only as a cop, but as a human being. And Jimmy, whom we see to be a vicious thug out on the streets (an apartment assault involving a baby and a hot iron is especially vile), is a doting husband and father at home. (This is a tired character construct, true; but Farrell, with his rough Irish charm and flashing intensity, sells it.) There are some disturbing moral ambiguities, too. At one point, Ray, interrogating a bedraggled woman in the junkie dump she calls home, threatens to have her baby taken away from her unless she gives him the information he needs. Is using a child's welfare as a bargaining chip an insupportable act, or simply the only one available in a desperate situation?
Norton brings a stabilizing sense of quiet determination to the film, and Farrell a scheming charisma. Emmerich, as the torn and tragic Franny, stands at the center of the picture and, without seeming to try, almost takes it over. "Pride and Glory" may not break any really new ground, but it brings to the cop-flick genre overtones and complexities of a kind with which it's not often concerned.
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