Mark Reviews Movies

WE OWN THE NIGHT

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: James Gray

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes, Danny Hoch, Alex Veadov, Moni Moshonov

MPAA Rating:  (for strong violence, drug material, language, some sexual content and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:57

Release Date: 10/12/07


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Howard Hawks distinguished that a good movie has "Three great scenes, no bad ones," but maybe a similarly frank definition of a mediocre movie is in order. It would certainly apply to We Own the Night, which contains no great scenes and no bad ones. It doesn't work but it doesn't fail. It exists with as little flair as possible and keeps you wanting more than just going through the motions. The movie's goal seems to be to underwhelm the audience, perhaps to let them think that by not being bad the movie might be good. It's written and directed by James Gray, who's made two crime dramas before this. Gray's style doesn't excite, and his script is filtered through the myriad of similar fare that has come before it. There's no depth to the characters; they merely exist to incite and prolong conflict. The actors seem to know it and spend most of the movie sleepwalking through their lines. The thematic implications are as simple as the main conflict of good (cops) vs. evil (drug dealers). The whole project feels workmanlike, an exercise in neither offending nor impressing.

The story takes place in Brooklyn, 1988, a fact that really has no relevance to the story; it could have taken place now and not suffered from later curiosity of why the movie is a period piece in the first place. Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) runs a club ad has a serious girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes). Tonight, Bobby has club business to discuss with the boss Marat (Moni Moshonov), and afterwards, he takes Amada to meet his family at a church hall. There's a party in honor of his brother Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg), who has just been made the head of a narcotics task force for the city. Bobby has made an effort to distance himself from his family of cops, but Joe wants Bobby to keep an eye out on Marat's nephew Vadim (Alex Veadov), who's suspected of selling heroin. Bobby's father and Deputy Chief of Police Burt Grusinsky (Robert Duvall) tries to convince him: "Sooner or later, you're going to be with us or the drug dealers." Bobby won't hear any of it, but soon, his club is raided. In retaliation, Joe is shot in front of his house, and Bobby finally decides to choose a side.

Whittled down to its essence, the movie is a simplistic morality tale. Bobby parties, hangs out with the wrong crowd, smokes pot before going to his brother's party, and snorts cocaine on occasion. He's on the wrong side; get it? Meanwhile, his brother and father are attempting to stop the wrongdoers. They're on the right side; get it? Bobby likes his life; he has a beautiful girlfriend who wants a big house and lots of kids, tons of money, and a high status among his colleagues. He's been tempted and has fallen. The shooting of his brother brings him back to the side of good, and that's all there is upon which to consider. The characters are molded from the same moral outlook, containing no depth beyond their necessary movements within the plot to get the point across. Mark Wahlberg spends part of the movie in a coma, and Robert Duvall acts like his character is walking through one. Joaquin Phoenix has the only somewhat tricky role, and he's fine here but limited by the character (He does a better interpretation of a more complex moral dilemma in next week's Reservation Road, though).

Bobby goes undercover to catch Vadim in the act, and once his cover is blown, he and Amada are placed in protection. The level of protection is iffy, because in one scene, Bobby actually goes back to his club with only a single guard, whom he sends away so he can talk to a former associate. The typical plot here takes some time out for three action sequences—two shootouts and one car chase. Gray keeps the soundtrack full of only the present noises in these scenes, and the buildup to the first confrontation in a coke-house, with quiet, uneasy music and Bobby's increasing heartbeat, is effective. The firefight itself works, although it's impossible to believe that Bobby survives what should be a backbreaking fall onto a fence with only minor injuries. The car chase, with Vadim's men attempting to kill Bobby as he's being escorted from one safe house to another, is the movie's best scene—one that actually goes above mere competence. Seen primarily from the perspective of Bobby's car and set to the rhythmic thumping of the windshield wipers, I can only imagine how genuinely effective the sequence would be if we were legitimately involved in the characters.

The second shootout takes place at a warehouse and turns into a brief cat-and-mouse chase through a field, but it's back in the same vein of nothing new. We Own the Night is just that: nothing new.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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