Iím not going to argue with the TV commercials. We Own The Night does indeed star decorated actors Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duval. It certainly gets taut in places. And boy oh boy is it gritty. The only thing itís not is a great movie, and they never bother to tell you that in the ads.
Writer/director James Gray has set his original screenplay in the New York of late 1980s, a time when the city was somewhat less decadent and crime-infested than the 1970s, but still more sordid than the post-Guliani lovefest New York is today. Whatever attention to period detail this required, it does not pay off in plot, motivation or glib nostaligia. But the degree of grittiness on the streets is important insomuch as we are viewing things through the eyes of a police family. Duvall plays Queens police chief Burt Grusinksy. Wahlberg plays son Joseph, dutifully following footsteps as a rising police captain. Joaquin Phoenix plays son Bobby, who is going by his deceased motherís maiden name, because as a nightclub manager and dabbler in the drug trade his blue bloodline presents an occupational hazard. As Bobby squires his smoking hot girlfriend, played by Eva Mendez, from his glamorous nightclub to the dismal church basement where his dad and brother are being honored, Gray allows us to think Bobby has made the sensible choice.
Two brothers on the opposite sides of the law is well-traveled territory for good reasonÖitís great inherent drama with plenty of room for interpretation. But Gray has absolutely no fun with this. As soon as the bloodlines kick in, it is a long, slow march until Joaquin Phoenix puts on a blue uniform. And if youíre having a hard time picturing Joaquin Phoenix as a policeman, I can assure you that seeing it on the big screen wonít help. There are other moments that just donít feel right, including that taut nail-biting sequence that requires the bad guys to bring low-level Bobby much farther into their confidence than makes sense. Indeed, for every clichť writer/director Gray sidesteps, he manages to dig his heels into another. And for all the talent Phoenix, Wahlberg and Duvall bring, We Own The Night seems content to skim from their previous roles.
I also kept getting the feeling Iíd seen this film before. Back in 2000 it was called The Yards. That was also a grim tale of family allegiance set in the unhappy boroughs of New York starring the same Wahlberg and Phoenix and written and directed by the same James Gray. Gray clearly has talent, but We Own The Night operates only in a safety zone, where gritty settings donít always translate to gritty drama, and the moral gray zones are never actually explored, theyíre just painted gray.
© 2007 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 10/17/07
We Own The Night
U.S. - 2007