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December 2009

We Own The Night

cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Robert Duvall, and Danny Hoch

writer and director: James Gray

113 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Universal DVD Regions 2 + 4 retail

RATING: 2/10
review by Peter Schilling

We Own The Night

Produced by its main stars, this crime drama set in late-1980s' New York is a rather turgid and retro film concerning Hollywood's perennial theme about reconciliation in familial estrangements - principally, a staunchly moralist father and his errantly vague son. Ah, yawn...

Brooklyn nightclub manager Bobby 'Green' (Joaquin Phoenix) rejects his family's upstanding connections to law enforcement, preferring the shelter and friendships offered by underworld figures running the city's drug trade. Bobby's dad is police-chief Burt Grusinsky (the great Robert Duvall, wasted here), while newly-promoted captain Joe (Mark Wahlberg) is Bobby's brother. Of course, they don't get along at all, especially when Joe leads a raid on his wayward brother's thriving club, clearly threatening to ruin any legitimate business established upon illicit backroom deals.

Bobby has a Puerto Rican girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes, a fine Campari calendar-girl, but she fails to act very convincingly in movies), who knows about his family's career-cop lineage but keeps his secret until her life is shattered when Bobby makes a choice to become an informer against a major trafficking ring. The film has a very serious problem in that Bobby's abrupt change of heart, and his sudden redemptive conversion from police informer to a probationary officer, is entirely unconvincing. There are some interesting Russian characters among the gangster stereotypes but their presence remains insufficient to enhance the storyline. More significantly, the blatant typecasting of all the stars (an unforgivable lapse in judgement, considering that the lead actors are also the producers!) only ensures this film is ploddingly dull and often dreadfully boring in the way of shameless Hollywood vanity projects.

Director James Gray seems happy to concoct and film stories of the past centred on New York. His early works, Little Odessa (1994), and The Yards (2000), were tales about social corruption and dysfunctional families. Not altogether engrossing stuff unless you grew up in 'Queens' or have become fascinated with the typical brand of urban sleaze prevalent on Manhattan locations. We Own The Night suffers from being stuffed with clichés and extraordinarily incompetent filmmaking techniques.

Busy club scenes, that might have been filled with riotous movement, and bursting with colour, look merely drab and distinctly unappealing. The key action sequence, detailing a standard car chase which escalates predictably to a 'road rage' shootout, is filmed in a torrential downpour that washes away cinematic tension, excitement, and spectacle, leaving just ashen visuals of disappointment. When a US cop thriller lacks dramatic impact, narrative consequence, or any points of interest for its main characters (are viewers supposed to care whether either of the brothers are likely to be killed?), then even generic terms like 'thriller' seem misapplied in such context.

Other scenes are shot in that deliberately blurred 'arty' - meaning artificial (and so un-naturalistic) not artistic - fashion that can so easily seem quite amateurish. Our reluctant hero Bobby's visit to a crook's hideout and introduction to the major drug dealing operation is presented completely without energy or suspense, although the subsequent police incursion does at least attempt to convey a sense of mild chaos in a confined space, when SWAT engage the villain's henchmen armed with automatic weapons. Most of the picture's other aggressive, potentially violent, confrontations have a tendency to look as if they were filmed while production was still only at the rehearsals stage, or when the camera operator was away on a weekend break.

Lacking intrigue-appeal to a degree that qualifies it for a rating score that's equal to 'dismal rubbish', We Own The Night is like 20-year-old bed-sit wallpaper, complete with those awful nicotine stains. Not a night to remember, but something to avoid.



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