The funeral finally arrives 45 minutes into "Pride and Glory," but the movie's been preparing for it from the opening credits: Everything in this good-cop/bad-cop action drama is shrouded in gray and attended by wailing. This isn't a feel-good genre, granted, but does it have to feel this bad?
When "Pride and Glory" opens, four cops are dead, apparently shot in a Bronx drug raid gone wrong. Precinct commander Francis Tierney (Noah Emmerich) assigns his brother Ray (Edward Norton) to the investigative task force, urged by their father (Jon Voight), a high NYPD muckety-muck who wants to bring the prodigal son back into the fold. Ray has physical and emotional scars from a mysterious earlier incident; in case you missed that metaphor, he lives on a boat that's slowly sinking into New York Harbor.
If Ray is a tarnished white knight and Franny is fairly upstanding, their brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell) is the devil in a blue uniform. He leads a dirty crew specializing in mayhem and murder; the only questions are how long Ray will take to discover it and what Francis will do when he finds out.
Director Gavin O'Connor and co-screenwriter Joe Carnahan take a perfectly fine B-movie premise and slow it down to an A-movie pace; in the process, they remove the juice that keeps a story like this honest. Norton does his usual fine, reined-in work but you sense Ray's calling for back-up in more ways than one. Emmerich is handcuffed by his character's indecisiveness and Voight aims for the back row - someone must have told him this was Shakespeare.
It's not; Shakespeare wouldn't have been this afraid to go slumming. The few times "Pride and Glory" jumps to life are when it drops the mournful pose and lets rip with the villainy. Frank Grillo and Shea Whigham make a frightening pair of Mutt-and-Jeff bad cops, and there's a lulu of a scene involving Farrell terrorizing a drug dealer's family during their holiday dinner. In particular, what transpires with Jimmy and the dealer's infant child is almost up there with Richard Widmark pushing the old lady downstairs in "Kiss of Death." (Don't worry, I said "almost.")
Elsewhere, "Pride and Glory" combines cop-movie clichés and self-consciousness - a deadly duo. The heavyhandedness extends to the weight of sin everyone here seems to be living under, and the weeping that most of the characters get to indulge in one scene or another. Just in case you thought the mood was too light, Franny's wife (Jennifer Ehle) is dying of cancer.
Scorsese can pull this stuff off, in part because he loves the stink and the snap at the heart of a crime movie (and in part because he's an artist). James Gray ("The Yards," "We Own the Night") walks these mean streets with a similar ponderousness, but he's an obsessive who never relaxes his grip. In "Pride," O'Connor maintains his tone of high solemnity until you're just starting to cave in, then trashes the flow with an absurd, near-comic climactic fistfight. If a director can't trust his own posturing, why should we?