Sunday, October 21, 2007

We Own the Night

Writer/Director James Gray once crafted a fresh, bold film about the bonds of family and the turmoil of crime. Staring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix, the film was a great little twist of drama. The Yards was Gray’s last directorial effort. His new film, We Own the Night lacks his previous films’ fearless creativity. The Yards was a well-received, little-seen, piece of independent film heaven. Those who remember it may think they are getting much of the same here. And those who have seen both, will most likely prefer the former.

Night is about two brothers, the popular, nightclub manager Bobby (Phoenix) and the stern, all business cop, Joseph (Wahlberg). Bobby dapples with drugs, gets the girls, runs a 24/7 party lifestyle and rarely manages to see his family. He spends more time at the home of the old, Russian owner of his nightclub, than he does at his brother’s promotional dinner.

The brothers have nothing in common and don’t get along. Their veteran cop dad (Robert Duvall) continually takes Joseph’s side and constantly judges Bobby. After Joseph busts Bobby’s club, it’s all melodrama from there. For those of you who are interested, I won’t reveal the many obvious “surprises” that Gray has in store.
Night tries to be a good movie and in some scenes, it succeeds. But overall, it’s a confusing, contradicting thriller. Phoenix and Wahlberg are both in the top of their acting game right now, but they aren’t given much to do here. Wahlberg’s Joseph is too much like his last screen role in The Departed. But where he shinned in that movie with his perfect timing and scene stealing moments, his character in Night falls flat. Phoenix makes the best of his many scenes, but he isn’t given proper words to fill the emotion. (I hope his talents are used to their limits in the upcoming Reservation Road.)

But on the other side of the spectrum you have a great Duvall, in an angry, gruff performance. This isn’t a Duvall we get to see often and he does good things with it. Eva Mendes, as Bobby’s loyal girlfriend, is wonderful as well. She tackles this throwaway role with great complexity. Mendes’ sexuality has carried her for most of her career, but here, she’s not only using her allure as a weapon, but she manages to stray away from formula, acting as Bobby’s true lover, not a typical two-timer. Night is by far her best role to date.

Great lines (“Better to be judged by 12, than carried by 6”) are outnumbered with basic, boring ones. Original, thrilling direction, (a simply miraculous car chase/shootout in the pouring rain), are forgotten among the multiple party scenes and the in-your-face soundtrack (Okay, I get it, it’s the ‘80s). Other moments, including a wire-tapped drug deal and a shootout in very tall grass, are just too normal. Gray wants to make a good film, and at times it even appears to be, but haven’t we seen this all before? C+


  1. For good or for ill, online movie access has made it a lot easier to give up on a film. I made it about 20-30 minutes into this one when I realized I wasn't going to see anything new. Per your review, it seems like I was right.

    1. And yet again, we agree completely. This is another one I haven't thought about it years. C+ actually seems too kind in hindsight. Definitely skippable.

  2. What do you think about the other James Gray films?
    I've seen just The Immigrant but I really enjoyed. We Own the Night was pretty forgettable and I agree with your review. Nothing new.

    1. The Immigrant is his best technical achievement, no question. Especially considering how small his budget was. But my favorite is still Two Lovers. That's a film that understands the emotional pain of love very well.