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|We Own the Night|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir-scr James Gray|
with Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes, Danny Hoch, Tony Musante, Antoni Corone, Alex Veadov, Moni Moshonov, Oleg Taktarov, Dominic Colon, Ed Koch
release US 12.Oct.07,
07/US Columbia 1h57
The glamorous life: Mendes and Phoenix
There are superb themes swirling around in this New York cops and mafia thriller, plus some strong performances, although it's a bit too deliberate and over-serious to keep us thoroughly engaged.
Bobby (Phoenix) comes from a long line of distinguished Brooklyn cops, including his father Burt (Duvall) and brother Joe (Walhberg). But Bobby has turned his back on all that, changing his surname from Grusinsky to Green and taking a job managing a drug-filled disco on Brighton Beach. When Joe takes charge of the narcotics team, the brothers find themselves on a collision course. As the drug-supplying Russian mafia puts Burt and Joe in their gun-sights, Bobby is going to have to make some tough decisions about which side he's on.
The title comes from the NYPD's 1980s motto (the story's set in 1988), and it's clearly meant to convey both irony and a present-day relevance, as the story parallels current events in America and abroad. The tensions between the characters and the internal struggles are the most involving things about this film, which is otherwise somewhat slow and dry with only brief flashes of emotion or action.
Phoenix holds the film together with an internalised performance that sharply captures Bobby's private struggle as well as his prickly relationships. It's really his movie, as Wahlberg and Duvall essentially dip in and out of the story. Mendes (as Bobby's stressed-out girlfriend) registers strongly as the only female character in this boy's club of a movie. She barely has any dialog, but adds some badly needed attitude and emotion with her sheer presence.
Gray directs the film with a slick, artistic sheen, adeptly capturing the character drama in each scene and surprising us with little bursts of unexpected violence. The highlight is a harrowing, rain-soaked car chase, shown completely from Bobby's limited perspective. But as a whole, the film feels both too earnest and overly simplistic in its approach to the various moral dilemmas. "All that matters is that we finish this," one character barks as the plot squeezes in towards the end. But this easy rah-rah view of good versus evil just doesn't wash anymore.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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