October 14, 2007

REVIEW: We Own the Night (C+)

Background: You'd be forgiven in thinking We Own the Night is a sequel to The Yards, what with the same look, feel, leading actors, writer and director. Somehow, it's not, mostly because the police play a larger role in this one. Written and directed by James Gray (The Yards...and that's about it) and starring Mark Wahlberg (The Departed, Shooter) and Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), We Own the Night was filmed on location in Coney Island. No word on the inspiration for the story, but it's your basic brothers-on-two-sides-of-the-law plot, with a couple of twists.

Synopsis: Brighton Beach/Coney Island, 1988. Bobby Green (Phoenix) is a free-wheeling nightclub manager who is quickly getting involved in the growing Russian drug trade. Bobby's brother Joe Grusinsky (Wahlberg) is a celebrated young NYPD narcotics task force lieutenant, and their father Burt Grusinsky (Duvall) is the NYPD deputy chief. Joe and Burt try to persuade Bobby to act as in informant, but Bobby is just starting to earn respect from the Russians and besides, he's having too much fun with his girlfriend Amada (Mendes). Lucky for Bobby, the Russians are unaware of his police relations (because Bobby uses his mother's last name...?), but when Joe makes a bust at the nightclub and the Russians decide to wage war against the police, Bobby finds himself caught in the middle and wanted to fight for both sides. He chooses his family, of course, and even goes so far as to enlist in the NYPD. By this time, though, it's too late - the Russians are wise to the situation and all that's left is to see who can kill whom first.

I Loved:
+ The ultra-real car chase in the rain.

I Liked:
+ Eva Mendes showing some real acting chops - I was impressed.
+ The 80's soundtrack that helped set the mood.
+ Joaquin Phoenix's performance - solid again, and able to elicit both sympathy and disgust from me at different times.

I Disliked:
- That I felt like I was watching Mark Wahlberg in The Departed - his character could have been given some more unique traits.
- The anticlimactic, almost cliched shootout ending - it was kind of how movies used to end before Hollywood went all mind-trippy in the mid-90's. This was kind of refreshing, but still a letdown.

I Hated:
- Nothing, really, besides some graphic violence.

Writing - 8
Acting - 9
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 4
Significance - 2

Total: 39/50= 78% = C+

Last Word: This is a classic shoulder-shrugger. It's entertaining and you maybe gain some insight into the war on drugs in the 80's, but it doesn't really take you anywhere. Looking at my grade, it was pretty well made, but it's just not an important movie. Joaquin Phoenix is at his best in roles like this where he can express a full range of emotions, compared with his stilted performance in Gladiator. You'll probably enjoy We Own the Night if you like police movies, drug movies, or bad television crime series. The acting is solid with the exception of the Russians, and the film color makes for an appropriate mood, but the story is unoriginal. Apparently it received a standing ovation at Cannes, which baffles me. Maybe the French have never seen an American cop movie, or maybe people were just glad to see a straight good guy vs. bad guy movie. One last thing - anyone understand what the title means?

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