We Own the Night
2007, R, 117 min. Directed by James Gray. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes, Antoni Corone, Moni Moshonov, Alex Veadov, Tony Musante.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 12, 2007
If you've just come from seeing David Cronenberg's recently released Eastern Promises, it's likely you'll wonder what the deal is with all these Russian gangsters in the movies of late. However, anyone familiar with writer/director Gray's two prior films (Little Odessa and The Yards) will recognize that such mobsters are recurrent characters throughout his work. The Russian crime syndicate in New York and conflicts between brothers on opposite sides of the law: These are Gray's recurrent (redundant?) themes. That Wahlberg and Phoenix both co-starred in Gray's last film, 2000's The Yards, doesn't ease We Own the Night's sense of déjà vu. Set in 1988 at the height of NYC's drug-fueled crime years (which provided grist for Rudy Giuliani's premayoral career as a famously tough-on-crime U.S. attorney), We Own the Night is rife with the kind of familiar twists that have always driven these sorts of films. Phoenix is cast as Bobby Green, the manager of a popular Brooklyn nightclub. He is somewhat distanced from his police-officer relatives, brother Joseph (Wahlberg) and father Burt Grusinsky (Duvall), using a different surname and keeping the truth about the family business from his girlfriend (Mendes) and associates. However, it's not long before Joseph conducts a drug bust on the premises of Bobby's club, and once Joseph is fingered for retribution, Bobby jumps sides and decides to assist the law. It's a plot we've seen dozens of times before, but the combined screen presence of the dynamic Phoenix, subdued Wahlberg, and trusty Duvall lends the film a solidity it otherwise might not have had. Former Mayor Ed Koch also shows up playing himself 20 years earlier, but some of the film's other period details fall short of their marks due to quibbling inaccuracies and improbabilities. This is most evident during several plot loopholes during which viewers are forced to accept as standard police procedure instances of inadequate self-protection and dismal custody practices. These instances further the plot but degrade the film's sense of veracity. Gray's signature long takes and overhead shots are in evidence and add to the film's fatalistic tone, and one rainy car-chase sequence is a real keeper. But, overall, it's impossible to shake the film's gloomy sense of eternal repetition.