It's pretty much impossible to make an original cop movie anymore-- even The Departed was a remake, remember?-- so any drama about the boys in blue has to justify its very existence before getting down to the storytelling. Pride and Glory doesn't quite get around to reinventing its genre or adding anything to the conversation, but it's a solid piece of work, buoyed by great performances as much as it's hampered by silly dialogue. There are plenty of overblown lines and crazy plot twists to laugh at, but the story of good cops and bad cops and mean streets makes for a good yarn, like a Law and Order episode stretched to feature length.
Edward Norton leads the pack of strong performances as Ray, the kind of cop who lives alone on a houseboat and sequesters himself at a desk job to get away from the past. His dad (Jon Voight) and brother Francis (Noah Emmerich) encourage him to get back in the field, which he finally does when four cops are shot in a Washington Heights apartment, and he has to figure out why. Eventually the clues start leading back to his brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell), who we learn very early on is using his power as a cop to engage in some unscrupulous extracurricular activities.
Some family dynamics work their way into the story, including a weird subplot in which Francis' wife (Jennifer Ehle) is dying of cancer for no reason and a beautifully drunken, tearful toast at Christmas dinner. But for the most part director Gavin O'Connor (who co-wrote the film with Smokin' Aces director Joe Carnahan) sticks to the cop beats, giving some of the most touching scenes and subplots to the minor police characters. As Ray pushes forward with his investigation, it leads to disintegration among the force, with one cop blabbing to the press about his misdeeds and another senselessly holding up a convenience store, resulting in a hostage situation.
As the ringleader of the bad cops, Farrell chew scenery with some of his more horrendous scenes but never quite sells the "devoted family man" side of his character. And the screenplay doesn't give him anything beyond the usual evil genius motivations; he says lines like "The ends justify the means, buddy boy," but you're not certain exactly which ends Jimmy is going for. The relationship between Jimmy and Ray, played well between Farrell and Norton, adds some dramatic weight, but for the most part Jimmy could be any variety of mustache-twirling villain.
Pride and Glory is a less succinct version of James Gray's We Own the Night, the 2007 movie also about brothers and cops, but it has its own satisfactions for viewers in the mood to be generous with it. It does an excellent job pinpointing the racial tensions that the NYPD have a way of stirring up, and the action scenes provide their own appropriate thrill. There's no telling why anyone thought this movie was necessary to make, but now that it's here, we may as well enjoy it for what it is.