(New Line) Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Noah Emmerich, Jennifer Ehle, Frank Grillo, Lake Bell, Ramon Rodriguez, Shea Wigham. Directed by Gavin O’Connor
The men and women of the New York Police Department have a particularly dangerous job to do. It’s a job that requires them to be exposed to the worst of human nature. Some rise above it and become something special. Others are infected by it and join in to that side of the coin. After all, these are human beings who have attributes both good and bad, just like the rest of us.
The Tierney clan – Frank Sr. (Voight), Frank “Frannie” Jr. (Emmerich), Ray (Norton) and in-law Jimmy Egan (Farrell) are all New York cops whose lives are irrevocably changed when four of their brother officers are gunned down in what appears to be an execution-style ambush.
At his father’s insistence, Ray is brought in to head the investigation. Once a promising detective, he has been in self-imposed exile after a Very Bad Incident, brooding on his father’s houseboat and separated from his wife. All four of the dead cops were under Frannie’s command and served with Jimmy.
As Ray digs deeper, he discovers that a notorious drug dealer named Angel Tezo (Rodriguez) is at the heart of the murders and that Jimmy is deeply involved. Frannie should well have been aware, but he is immersed in the impending death of his wife (Ehle) from cancer.
What we have here is an excellent cast elevating a mediocre movie. If you follow the plot line, there isn’t anything here that hasn’t been in a dozen movies just like it, from the Irish cop family to the corrupt Hispanic drug dealers. You can count on several angry confrontations, much soul-searching and a denouement in which there is at least a measure of redemption.
Norton, Voight and Farrell are all fine actors. Voight does a magnificent job as a father whose old school ideas of what a cop should be are rapidly fading into the past. He is sinking into a stupor of alcohol and moral high ground; a scene at the Thanksgiving table where he drunkenly addresses his children might very well be the best one in the film.
Norton plays the heavily conflicted Ray who knows that the further he digs the worse it’s going to be for his family. He has to weigh his family against justice, and his conscience is getting a workout that would do Bob and Jillian proud. Frannie is a man who realizes too late what is going on under his nose, but is a decent guy at heart.
Films like this have a tendency to over-romanticize the police force as war films tend to over-romanticize the military. The thing to remember about the police is that while yes there is some corruption and yes there are some boy scouts, most cops fall right in the middle. Most are just doing a job and the kind of grand concepts of pride and honor are really meaningless. Mostly, it’s just about coming home at the end of the day.
Still, I liked this movie mainly because of the performances. Farrell does his usual rough and tumble work while Norton is steady and layered. They are as opposite as you can get as actors and that juxtaposition really works, making their scenes together all the more magnetic.
This movie tries really hard to be gritty which isn’t a bad thing in my book. Movies about the mean streets of New York should be gritty. While it may not necessarily work as a police procedural, it sure does work as a character study. That’s enough for me.
WHY RENT THIS: A raw and gritty look at the NYPD, the stress of the job and the ease that corruption can set in to good men.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Romanticizes the Force to almost mythic proportions and the fawning gets a little too close to kissing ass for comfort. And yes, as a matter of fact, we have seen it all before.
FAMILY VALUES: Some pretty rough violence, even rougher language and a little bit of drug use add up to one for mature audiences only.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nick Nolte was originally cast as Frank Tierney Sr., but an old knee injury flared up at the last minute and Nolte had to go in for surgery. Voight was cast as a replacement at the last minute.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Flame and Citron