We Own the Night

We Own the Night

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            “We Own the Night” is essentially four movies in one. I’m going to give away some minor plot details, but nothing too dramatic.

            Movie one: Joaquin Phoenix plays Bobby Green, née Grusinsky, a night club owner who is good friends with many criminals, addicted to cocaine, and sleeping with curvy Amada (Eva Mendes). Mark Wahlberg plays Bobby’s brother Joseph, who followed in their dad’s footsteps, and is now a hard-working NYC cop. Dad is played by Robert Duvall. Of course there comes a time when Joseph has to bust up Bobby’s night club in order to catch a notorious drug dealer who has been operating there. How will the cops in the family reconcile with the friend of criminals?


            Movie two: As a result of the bust, Joseph is callously shot (but not killed) by a masked hood. Now it’s Bobby’s turn to do justice. He must go over his own father’s head and become an undercover deputy for the police department, infiltrate a drug den (which he has been conveniently invited into), and catch the bad guys. The intended undercover work goes forward, and starts promisingly, but ends on a bad note. Bobby injures himself fleeing, the cops shoot up the place, and the low-level criminal is caught.


            Movie three: Bobby, as a result of being a snitch, must now go into hiding under police custody with Amada in tow. Since we know the rhythm of this film at this point, we know that he will probably be found out by criminals lurking in every shadow. A dramatic event occurs, which leads to…


            Movie four: Bobby decides, as a result of said event, to become a cop himself, and catch the head criminal himself. The final act of the film is an extended plot to get revenge.


            So, yes, the plot meanders all over the place. One storyline ends, another begins, and the film grinds onward. I have no problems with episodic storytelling per se, but it’s a bad thing when a single-story feature feels like four episodes of four different cop dramas directed by the same guy.


            The director in this case is a fellow named James Gray, who wrote and directed “The Yards” in 2000. He is a dreary filmmaker. Every shot in both of his films I’ve seen are grey and muted and damp. It does take place in New York in December, but Gray seems to have gone out of his way to make sure we know everything is cold and foggy and wet. Even when we’re in a hot nightclub, it feels a little too spacious and mildewy.


            The actors are all fine.  Pheonix does as best he can with the inexplicable changes in Bobby, Wahlberg plays a lower-rent version of his character in “The Departed,” and Duvall can’t help but be good, even with some really horrible lines of “advice” dialogue. Mendes does little more than look foxy, and stare longingly at the increasingly frazzled Bobby.

             But the film’s structure is so haphazard, so all-over-the-map, so episodic, that it’s hard to get wrapped up in the way that Gray no doubt intended. He wanted to make a moody cop film about the importance of police legacy (the title is an old NYC police slogan). Instead he made a well-put-together, well-acted, beautifully-photographed, overly-dreary, schizophrenic cop whatchamacallit.

Published in: on October 23, 2007 at 9:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

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