Yes, it's a police drama, but not the kind that clogs up TV with bullets and clichés. Pride and Glory, directed with grit and grace by Gavin O'Connor (Tumbleweeds, Miracle) from a probing script he wrote with Joe Carnahan (Narc), may be the perfect election-era indictment. Ostensibly about a steadily imploding Irish-cop family in New York, Pride and Glory sizzles with a subversive subtext that questions blind loyalty to institutions, from the White House to Wall Street, that keep selling us out. It's a portrait of America rotting from the inside.
Edward Norton is customarily excellent as Ray Tierney, an honest police investigator caught between father Francis Sr. (Jon Voight), who plays it old-school; brother Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich), who sees corruption and looks the other way; and brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell), who is fast losing his moral balance.
The plot pivots around the murder of four cops during a savage drug bust. Francis Jr. was in command of the unit that included Jimmy, and now Francis Sr. has called in Ray to investigate. So far, so familiar. And it doesn't help that the movie is crammed with subplots that verge on soap opera.
But when O'Connor keeps his focus steady, the movie transcends its played-out genre. As Declan Quinn's camera prowls around the dirtiest corners, a cast of outstanding actors digs inside the psyches of troubled characters. Farrell, on a roll following In Bruges and Cassandra's Dream, brings human dimension to a role that could have settled for standard-issue villainy. And Voight is especially effective as a chief of detectives who rivals Donald Rumsfeld for abusing power in the name of what's good for the country. The concepts inherent in the film's title are what gets forgotten when organizations ride herd over the citizens they've sworn to serve.
Pride and Glory is a movie that asks the kind of questions candidates like to sidestep during debates. Its value is unquestionable as drama and moral provocation. And yet the movie has been stuck in limbo for two years, a victim of studio politics and distribution. As Hollywood drowns us in the pap of Beverly Hills Chihuahua and the like, Pride and Glory has to fight for face time at the multiplex. And you wonder why smart movies are an endangered species.