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We Own the Night

November 27, 2013

We Own the Night (2007)
Director: James Gray
Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall

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Synopsis: Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix) and Joe (Mark Wahlberg) are two brothers with markedly different occupations in 80s Brooklyn. Joe is a stellar cop – following in the proud footsteps of his Police Chief father (Robert Duvall), while Bobby runs a top nightclub which has links to a Russian drug ring. When Joe makes a raid on Bobby’s club, it sets in chain a sequence of events that will put Bobby’s loyalty and bravery to the test…

Review: James Gray’s old-fashioned, early-Scorsese-esque melodrama We Own the Night showcases his interest in clean-cut, high-concept ‘polar’ dramatic pieces. Sandwiched in-between his The Yards that had Mark Wahlberg’s ex-jailbird trying to go straight, and the later Two Lovers – a romantic drama charting Joaquin Phoenix’s irreconcilable relationship dilemmas between two totally different women, We Own the Night has a classic set-up with Phoenix again portraying a conflicted Brooklyn thirty-something, split between his upwardly mobile nightclub career and a loyalty to his firm and proper police-employed family. This dichotomy is outed in the iconic opening section where Phoenix goes from his pumping Brooklyn club to a dowdy, community hall police awards ceremony. In fact, it is Gray’s feel for the kinetic action sequence which is probably We Own the Night‘s greatest strength, as he creates two memorable scenes with fantastic visual and sound design – one being when Phoenix goes undercover to sting the Russian mobster’s drug den, and the second when Phoenix (under police protection) is chased by gangsters on a rain-sodden New York highway.

Sure, the film is schematic and full of its own dramatic portentousness, and the closing sequence where Phoenix goes off in to the smoky marshland to hunt his arch-nemesis is one unlikely, overblown sequence too many, but I’m inclined to admire Gray’s almost unfashionable sense of seriousness and spectacle. (November 2013)

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