Merging Serpico with an almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy Pride and Glory details an extremely complicated investigation into the gunning down of four New York City cops after an attempted drug bust goes terribly wrong. With increasingly bad PR and an apparent cop killer still at large the Chief of Manhattan Detectives Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight) assigns his son Detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) to lead the probe. The younger Tierney is reluctant since he knows all four cops served under his brother Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). Ray’s instincts may be right because as he digs deeper he discovers an awkward and uncomfortable connection between Francis Jimmy and the case. Could his own family have been involved in an inside job and tipped off the drug dealers? Soon Ray finds himself having to choose between the greatest moral dilemma of all: loyalty to the job or loyalty to his family. Although Pride and Glory doesn’t break any new ground and is composed of elements we’ve seen in many previous films dealing with police corruption this film is distinguished by some of the finest work in the storied careers of many of its cast. Norton follows up his summer comic-book movie The Incredible Hulk with a far smaller and more focused character in P&G playing a man caught in a moral bind facing the unthinkable prospect of going after his own family members. Norton wears his ticklish predicament on his face and is enormously effective conveying pure angst. Emmerich (Little Children) delivers a rich portrayal of a tortured soul not only caught up in an intense investigation but dealing with a wife (Jennifer Ehle) dying of cancer. Farrell is better than he has been in some time playing a shady officer who seemingly will stop at nothing to get what he needs. Voight as the proud family patriarch and veteran of the NYPD clearly understands the dilemma of this man who is watching his family torn apart. Co-writer/director Gavin O'Connor has spent a frustrating couple of years trying to bring this story to the screen but his perseverance pays off. Pride and Glory is a well-written cop tale that co-exists as an interesting character study about the power of family ties vs. personal pride. O’Connor manages to put us right in the center of the moral conflict at the heart of his story and with several first-rate actors (even in the lesser roles) crafts a film that seems authentic to its core. Incorporating Declan Quinn’s in-your-face realistic cinematography O’Connor resists going for a more obvious audience-pleasing flashier style achieving a look and feel that seems more grounded in the milieu he’s trying to capture. His script co-written with Joe Carnahan (who wrote and directed the equally gritty Narc) is tight and unsympathetic slowly letting layers of a very intricate and complex story peel away to reveal a core that packs a punch right to the gut.
On the slick Miami streets it should be easy for a top-notch bounty hunter like Bucum Jackson (Ice Cube) to make a buck. Yet with his unorthodox ways of catching criminals that make him unpopular with the local cops and his boss big money has so far eluded him. Enter con artist Reggie Wright (Mike Epps) a smooth-talking punk whom Jackson has put away before and is about to again. Reggie escapes from Bucum into the getaway van of two jewel thieves (Carmen Chaplin and Roger Guenveur Smith) after a big score but it seems the two have stolen fake diamonds. Not good especially when their boss (Tommy Flanagan) finds out. Wright escapes again and winds up at the apartment of his girlfriend Gina (Eva Mendes). They find out the lottery ticket Reggie bought for Gina earlier has won a $60 million jackpot. But the winning ticket happens to be in the wallet he accidentally dropped in the van which is now in the possession of the bad guys. Oops. Then Jackson shows up. (With me so far?) Reggie manages to convince the bounty hunter to hook up with him to try to get the lottery ticket back and split the winnings. Bucum sees the advantages right away. If they find the ticket they're in the money. If not Jackson will nab the criminals and get the fame and fortune he needs to set up his own private investigation firm. With so much cash at stake including the real $20 million stash of diamonds it's not a bad deal.
Despite the convoluted plot the acting remains pretty one-dimensional. Ice Cube has a certain charm which he's carried with him in his films. He has it in Benjamins but he plays Bucum almost too straight without much texture behind the character. The thing Ice Cube does well though is play off his co-stars as he did with Chris Tucker in Friday and with Epps in Next Friday. It's obvious Ice Cube (who also co-produced and co-wrote Benjamins) is trying to capitalize on his success with Epps. Unfortunately the chemistry between the two stars in Benjamins misses a step. Epps' Reggie comes off far more annoying than anything else and in some moments you wish Bucum would just shoot Reggie to put us out of our misery. Everyone else in the film plays their stereotypical roles as best they can. Mendes tries to be a little too much like Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump while the bad guys try to be a little too much like every other bad guy we've ever seen. Valarie Rae Miller who has turned heads as a tough lesbian on the hit TV series Dark Angel is completely wasted as a wannabe bounty hunter trying to partner up with Bucum.
Benjamins wants to be that buddy action flick where the banter is quick and the guns are blazin' with the Miami setting giving the film a Miami Vice feel of water boats and hot women in bikinis. Unfortunately it tries too hard. There are moments of hilarity--a few scenes with Epps and Mendes and especially a scene with Epps and two older women after they've scammed a local convenience store--but they are few and far between. The script has almost too much going on (hence the difficult time trying to keep this description of the plot to a page) while the characters fall too easily into cliches. Even though Ice Cube is certainly a player in Hollywood having successfully produced many of his own films he does a much better job putting himself in his own element where the surroundings are more familiar. He's going for a bang-up run-of-the-mill action movie here instead of giving us a slice of life like in his Friday movies. Sorry a slice of life is far far more interesting.