Heading into a screening of Pride and Glory, a fellow critic remarked the plot sounded suspiciously similar to We Own the Night, director James Gray's drama from last year about two embattled brothers - one a cop, the other a miscreant - whose father was a decorated NYPD veteran.
"No, in this one, both of the brothers are cops,'' I replied, only a little facetiously. "So it's completely different.''
As it turns out, I was right. The plot of Pride and Glory does not bear much overt resemblance to We Own the Night. Instead, it's lifted from pretty much every movie or TV show you've ever seen about police corruption, only not done as well.
Even the weakest episode of TV's The Shield owns Pride and Glory outright: This is the kind of movie so relentlessly derivative, you can figure out the turns and surprises awaiting in the script by Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin' Aces) and Gavin O'Connor (Tumbleweeds) just five minutes into the story.
O'Connor, who also directed Pride and Glory, is the son of a New York City detective, but the expected insider's perspective adds nothing new to the film's depiction of good cops vs. bad ones. In fact, Pride and Glory often feels cartoonish and overblown, as in the way the movie depicts officers holding up neighborhood bodega owners like two-bit punks.
What makes the film bearable are its performances. Edward Norton, an actor who brings gravity and weight to every movie he's in, stars as detective Ray Tierney, whose investigation into the shooting of four police officers during a drug bust leads to evidence that puts him at odds with his brother Francis (Noah Emmerich), the commander of the murdered cops; their veteran officer father (Jon Voight), who operates under the police mantra of "We protect our own. That is all I know;'' and his loose cannon brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell), who worked alongside one of the dead men and is leading his own off-the-record, scorched-Earth hunt for the killer, Vic Mackey style.
The cast keeps Pride and Glory, which was shot in a murky blue-and-black palette by Declan Quinn (Rachel Getting Married), from sinking completely into its swamp of cliches. Norton makes you empathize with Ray's angst over deciding whether or not to rat on his fellow officers, although the movie takes even that decision from him, forcing his hand in a way that actually diminishes the character's heroism.
Farrell, who is better at playing villains than heroes, is convincing as the run-amok Jimmy, even if the film pushes his character to ridiculous extremes, such as holding a hot iron over a baby's face in order to get an informant to talk. Voight even pulls off that old actor's bane of a convincing drunk scene, expressing his admiration for his sons over Christmas dinner during one of the film's peaceful interludes.
The peace doesn't last, of course. Pride and Glory is appropriately gritty and violent, but O'Connor isn't particularly gifted at staging action, and fudges at least one critical scene, forcing the audience to rely on what the characters are saying to figure out what just happened. The actors keep it tolerable, but as a serious look at internal police strife, Pride and Glory isn't anywhere near the leagues of Serpico or L.A. Confidential, or even this spring's Keanu Reeves throwaway Street Kings. It's strictly rookie-caliber.