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Pride and Glory

Once More, With Feeling

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most frequently covered song ever written is “Yesterday” by The Beatles, with more than 3,000 different versions performed by artists including Ray Charles, Willie Nelson and Marvin Gaye.

It’s a remarkable statistic, though impossible to verify. I have heard only three versions of “Yesterday", none as memorable as Paul McCartney’s original, but they all share the same mournful melody and melancholy lyrics. Anyone can cover a song, I suppose, though it helps if you can carry a tune.

It doesn’t hurt to offer some personal insight, a clever new twist on a familiar formula, but it’s not essential. Take Pride and Glory. There’s nothing particularly fresh about Gavin O’Connor’s tale of lawless police mixed up in the New York drug trade, but give the young director his due. He knows what he’s doing and he knows how to do it. In other words, he can carry a tune.

Those familiar with movies like The Departed and Internal Affairs should recognize Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell), a hotheaded cop who sends four fellow officers to their deaths to protect his partnership with a high-ranking dope dealer. Beneath Jimmy’s boyish smile and playful Irish charm lurks a sociopath rotting from within, whose only loyalties rest with his family. And therein lies the problem.

Jimmy is married into a clan of police lifers, including a brother-in-law, Ray (Edward Norton), who is leading the investigation into the cop killings. Ray is smart, a straight-arrow type unwilling to lie for the sake of the fraternal order. When the trail of evidence leads him to Jimmy, Ray is forced to choose between family, the force and some semblance of integrity.

Pride and Glory unfolds somewhat predictably, as Jimmy and Ray inch closer to the inevitable showdown -- a bare-knuckles brawl at an Irish pub, of course -- that O’Connor and co-screenwriter Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces) set up soon after the opening credits. It also strains the limits of plausibility, as when Jimmy and a group of rabid thug cops flaunt their lawlessness so openly it’s a wonder they elude capture at all.

Yet the movie is otherwise smooth and competently crafted, an efficient thriller punctuated by startling bursts of violence and nuanced performances from Norton, whose tough-cop routine masks a sort of cerebral tenderness, and the ever-reliable Noah Emmerich, on hand as Ray’s hopelessly conflicted big brother.

If Norton and Emmerich give the movie its heart, Farrell is the insidious cancer in its soul, and rarely has he seemed more authentic. Unlike the tortured hit man he played so convincingly in last winter’s In Bruges, Farrell’s rogue cop is unburdened by sensitivity. He’s all steely confidence and rage, and even though his downfall is telegraphed from the start, it’s worth waiting for.