Pride and Glory, written and directed by Gavin O'Connor, the honest-to-goodness Irish son of an Irish New York cop, is nothing to write home about - although it might get your Irish up, unless you like ploddingly familiar storylines and clichés. Seriously, this movie ends with fisticuffs between two Irish cops in a pub called Irish Eyes while an Irish reel plays on the jukebox. Not that I have any objections to Irish reels, mind you. The fightin' Irish are also brothers-in-law - one good, one bad - from a long line of Irish cops. Aren't they all?
The hard-drinking patriarch of the Tierney clan is police chieftain Francis Tierney, Sr. (Jon Voight), the sort of bloke who gets sloshed and makes emotional speeches at Christmas dinner. His son Frannie Tierney (Noah Emmerich) is commander of a Washington Heights precinct where there have been some shenanigans of late - perpetrated, unbeknownst to Frannie, by his dear brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). The misdeeds involved an extortion and thuggery racket operated by Jimmy and his fellas, which resulted in four cops being killed during a drug bust gone wrong.
Jimmy's about the squirrelliest guy you're ever going to see, so it must have taken some topnotch looking-the-other-way for Frannie not to have noticed what was going on. He was, perhaps, distracted by the fact that his wife (Jennifer Ehle) is dying of cancer - which, I'll admit, is a good excuse.
The cop killings are being investigated by Ray Tierney (Edward Norton), a former detective with history, an angry scar on his cheek and stuff that he doesn't want to talk about - including a marriage that fell apart, apparently because of all the stuff that he doesn't want to talk about. Ray lives on a boat - a leaky boat. And the water's rising, which is a metaphor for something, I'm sure. Ray doesn't want to investigate the cop killings, but Pop Tierney presses him to do it, which sets up a whole brother-vs.-brother, family-loyalty-vs.-truth, thin-blue-line tale of moral conflict and whatnot that leads to that ridiculous donnybrook in the pub.
Mano á mano fistfights are a poor way to solve the problem of endemic police corruption, of course. Jimmy's a particularly bad cop: In addition to murder and extortion, he threatens a baby with a hot iron. The baby is the child of a vicious drug dealer; but still, that's pretty bad, and warrants more than a punch in the nose.
On the other hand, Jimmy loves kids, especially his own, so I guess it all evens out. All he needs is one act of self-sacrifice and redemption and everything will be okay. Luckily, the script provides just such an opportunity. Oh, and there's a race riot, too; because if there's one thing that Pride and Glory won't do, it's to leave any stone unturned, if said stone resembles a retro cop-movie cliché.
Like I said, I have nothing against Irish reels. I'm even willing to entertain some Irish cop clichés; but this movie's got all the Irish cop clichés - and, for that matter, all the cop movie clichés. There's a lot of shouting and drinking and speechifying about protecting the family (broadly defined) and not making waves if you live in boathouses, so to speak, and doing the right thing even if it's the wrong thing. Perps get slammed against walls, guns are drawn, blood spatters, people get punched in the face. It's all pretty well beneath Farrell and Norton to be in this bit of nonsense; they're both capable and likable actors who can do better than play simplified versions of good cop/bad cop.
The director has a good eye for atmosphere, and the movie makes particularly good visual use of chiaroscuro to impart a vivid sense of the insularity and clannishness of the police force, while also creating a sense of heightened emotional intensity and intimacy that holds the attention - even though the rest of the movie doesn't really warrant it. That's about the best and most highfalutin' thing that can be said for Pride and Glory.