Sunday, February 10, 2008

WE OWN THE NIGHT: MOVIE REVIEW















Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes
Director: James Gray
Runtime: 117 min.
Rating: ***
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Drama

We Own the Night is what I would describe as the standard issue genre film, good while it lasts but almost completely unremarkable. It is a commendable genre effort, cops versus criminals and all. The problem is it seems to be trying to hard, to rise above those boundaries, harboring ambitions to be a great picture when it isn’t. Everyone knows how it is going to pan out, half an hour into the film, but Gray still believes in exploring every moral nook and corner of the film humanely possible. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and when the film has probably the car chase of the year, it sure as hell is not.
You know the drill, still, I’ll carry it out anyway. Bobby Greene (Joaquin Phoenix) is a manager at a Russian club where gangsters happen to be frequent visitors. His real name though is Bobby Grusinsky, son of NYPD chief Burt Grusinsky (Duvall) and brother of star Police detective Joseph Grusinsky (Wahlberg). Now, here’s the obligatory twist in the tale – none of his mafia contacts have even the slightest of ideas about his relations. Seems a tad far-fetched since the mafia does quite a through check into the background of every third rung associate and everyone in the police force seems to recognize Bobby. Let us spare it this negligence, and get on with it. The script is an exercise in the routine, anyway. The gangland decides to execute a contract on the two Grusinsky cops, sending the hitherto confused Bobby into action. And the film too, which until then feels desperately in need of a nice little shot of Red Bull.
There’s a nerve wracking wired-informer-in-the-middle-of-a-drug-deal scenario quite, and there’s a wholly original car chase sequence that will have you clenching your fists against the arms of your chair. There’s the climactic action sequence at the end which feels more like a homage than a rip-off of The French Connection climax, edgy yet predictable. And then, there’s Joaquin Phoenix’s steady performance which elevates some of the dull passages in the film. Apart from that, there’s nothing in here worth mentioning than the standard. Eva Mendes’ has a histrionic-ability-testing sequence which with its positive reading surprised me a bit. Duvall and Wahlberg, powerhouses in their own right, have little to work with here. That they still leave some impression should give you the idea why they are so good at what they do.
But it is the unimaginative script that is the killer. The movie fails to answer why Bobby is so cross with the family, and especially his brother. He even goes as far as hurl abusive content regarding Joseph’s wife. Burt seems to be a wonderful father and I cannot possibly imagine his children would wander. I fail to understand why Bobby seeks an alternate father in Marat Bujayev (Moni Moshonov), because the film supplies with no plausible answers. When his brother is shot, though, inexplicably, things fall into place for the family and old ties reunited.
I believe Gray is a good director, and these questions I pose are ample evidence of that. With the kind of script he has at his disposal, that he has explored it to this degree is a cause of celebration. He brings human drama, and a sense of atmosphere to sequences that supply nothing more than mere words on paper. That he has written himself this script is a cause for concern.

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