After decades of corrupt-cop dramas in which the noble are invariably faced with selling out either dirty comrades or selling their souls, it’s a wonder anyone with a shred of dignity and virtue still chooses to join the force. Pride and Glory is the latest such saga to shed light on the moral balancing act required by the job, and a serviceable but clichéd one at that, fixated as it is on the attempt of an NYPD detective, Ray Tierney (Edward Norton), to maintain allegiance to both his personal and professional families, which—given that his father (John Voight), brother Francis (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell) are all fellow officers—amount to the same thing. Having taken a desk job after ethically compromising himself on a prior case, Ray is tasked by his father to investigate the murder of four cops, though things become knotty once the evidence leads back to Jimmy and Francis.
Director Gavin O’Conner establishes the tight spot and subsequent blindside revelations heading Ray’s way via a canny opening shot in which he’s seen out-of-focus behind a chain-link fence while a nearby football announcer remarks about a quarterback sack, “He didn’t see that coming.” His handheld cinematography and blue-gray color palette recall that of co-screenwriter Joe Carnahan’s Narc, yet despite providing some initial verve, it’s a style incapable of masking the story’s predictable territory and trajectory, as well as its uneven character portraits, which are spread decidedly thin via a refusal to choose one as the center of attention. Consequently, despite Norton’s simmering performance, Ray’s dilemma—living on a leaky boat, he’s a man alone on an island—feels stock, while Jimmy’s villainy comes off as one-dimensional up to and through his final-act justification for criminal behavior that includes harassing a perp by threatening to use a clothes iron on his infant.
Pride and Glory’s commentary on law enforcement vice and decency—as well as its positioning of women as the arbiters of, and impetuses for, moral clarity—is far less immediate and realistic than its gritty aesthetic and tone would have one believe. “This shit ends here,” declares Francis after being convinced to do the right thing by his fatally cancer-stricken wife, but given how often this Serpico material resurfaces, it’s pretty tough to believe him.