Rooted in sub-cultural specificism and the clash of both family
and public and private lives, writer-director James Gray’s We Own the Night sets itself up as something familiar — a gritty
genre shuffle through cops-and-goombas territory. While it doesn’t necessarily
break many molds, the movie does take enough interesting turns and twists (there are several moments early on which, in their own way, could qualify as
third act breaking points) to earn and keep your attention, all before an
ending that sacrifices emotional credibility for the sake of convenience.
We Own the Night
the Blondie and David Bowie soundtrack), against the backdrop of a rising tide
of drug trafficking and ethnic, organized criminality. As the popular manager
of Russian-owned nightclub El Caribe, Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) has
reverted to his deceased mother’s maiden name in order to conceal both his Polish-American
heritage and his connection to a long line of distinguished police officers,
including older brother Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) and father Burt Grusinsky
(Robert Duvall), from whom he is partially estranged. While Bobby’s Puerto
Rican girlfriend, Amada Juarez (Eva Mendes), knows about his family, his boss (Moni
Moshonov) and other friends don’t.
Bobby is sort of floating through life in a haze of booze,
smoke — some from cigarettes, some from the hippie lettuce — and, occasionally,
harder substances, but he doesn’t seem a particularly bad guy, and the rift
with his family of one of petty disagreement and hassle, not necessarily
overblown argument. Bobby has dreams of opening a club in
and to this end he tries to keep a friendly distance from the drug-peddling
gangster — Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov), the nephew of his boss — who’s
essentially operating out of his club. When his brother’s sting operation inevitably
throws his policy of blithe non-engagement into violent disarray, Bobby is
forced to choose sides and take a stand.
Coming just in advance of his turn as a bereaved father in
opening next week,
special mention here, for We Own the
Night works best for much of its running time as a modest vehicle for him. When
he got his start, in films like Gus Van Sant’s To Die For and even something like Clay Pigeons, Phoenix was never an actor that one would assume had
the brio to pull off strident moral awakening — he seemed just as likely to
wander off into mumbly, Jeremy Davies-esque wallflower territory, and forever
play sensitive guys who get shit on by women and rescued or aided by the hero.
That Phoenix so beautifully and yet subtly conveys both the pain — wanting to
be accepted, but feeling like he can never catch a break — and burgeoning guilt
that drive Bobby to action is a testament to his talent.