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I saw that We Own The Night received a standing ovation at the European critics screening and premiere at Cannes. Well, I can tell you at the preview screening I saw a while ago in the US, the audience applauded enthusiastically as well. The audience was totally into this movie in a way you don't usually see anymore. Not just grooving on it, but engrossed. Reminds me of The Godfather not just the movie, but the way the audience enjoyed it. Only reason I didn't give it a 10 was I don't give most movies at 10 unless they're like The Searcher or Vetigo. Again I don't want to give away too much about the movie because I hate now how everyone knows everything about a movie's plot before it opens. Let's just say it's both a crime movie and a family drama. A socially conscious melodrama and a cop story. And it has a couple of great action scenes. The acting was top notch by Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg (better than in The Departed), Robert Duvall (always good) and especially Eva Mendes who I've never seen like this before. 9/10
I caught a recent screening of this film and as a fan of thrillers I was more than impressed. The film creates a handful of true white-knuckle scenes but also accomplishes telling a story that has weight and depth. I love when a film takes its time to develop real characters and not repeats of what we've already seen. The crime genre is so full of clichés already. This film pays homage to classics such as French Connection while breaking new ground in its family/police drama. Phoenix, Wahlberg, Duvall and Mendes are all superb. Eva Mendes deserves a particular mention, as she has not yet been seen this way before.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Gray's work here as writer-director has come leaps and bounds
from his previous film The Yards, released in 2000. With We Own the
Night, he crafts a fantastic story with a style set apart from current
films. Perhaps not designed for audiences that fear classical
storytelling, this film is refreshingly not reminiscent of the music
videos/video games that are being packaged as movies. Gray has likened
it to a Greek tragedy in its scope, where something far more
devastating than predictability awaits. After a much discussed sex
scene that manages to be risqué and sexy without going too far for tame
audiences, the story really develops beautifully, exceeding my (already
high) expectations. I'm looking forward to seeing it for a second time
in theaters as I have a feeling that this one only improves with
Gray creates real mood in several particularly excellent scenes. Two in particular, the drug house and car chase are so well constructed, and so well filmed. They build tension inconspicuously, they creep up on you to where you barely notice that you've started breathing harder. And the choice of composition and sound effects never feels overdone or out of place. It serves as a compliment to the suspense rather than the source. At times the effect almost sounds throbbingly ultrasonic. It adds palpability to scenes without overpowering them--something all too common today.
Of particular mention is Gray's use of hallways as set pieces. There are three different hallways used at different intervals in the film that are wonderfully atmospheric (as coupled with haunting audio and skillful direction) and indicative of a passage into the unknown. The last--Bobby walking down the corridor into blackness is both terrifying in its context and foretelling of the symbolic darkness he's entering in his life.
As for the cast, Joaquin Phoenix is (again) the heart, soul, and center of the film. Smartly given the main role, his weight, conviction and charisma easily stand out here. Conversely, Mark Wahlberg contributes little and provides the same fairly one-note performance we've seen before from him. But perhaps aided by their previous working relationship and off-screen friendship, he and Phoenix share enough believable chemistry to make their complicated relationship feel real. Duvall does fine work as their father, we've seen him better but I enjoyed the tension between his character and Phoenix's black sheep of the family. Eva Mendes is unobjectionable as well. Actually the relationship between Bobby (Phoenix) and Amada (Mendes) is perhaps the most touching and poignant in the film and Mendes is in no way a disappointment or distraction. More than just the girlfriend of a charismatic man, we believe in the relationship between Amada and Bobby, which makes the evolution of that relationship all the more resonant by film's end.
But, this is Phoenix's film. At his worst (if you can call it that) he's reminiscent of a young and passionate Al Pacino, and at his best, there is no one comparable. Phoenix takes this role and makes it heartbreaking, shading Bobby with sympathy and complexity. There are several scenes in which his reactions are stunning in their realism. A scene in a diner in which Bobby knows more than he can let on to a Russian drug dealer, Phoenix juggles a reflection of both inner and outer conflict that is revelatory in its subtlety--and he does it all with his face and eyes. He seems an old hand at the dreaded and difficult character arc, so his masterful work there is no surprise. What is surprising is that you instantly forget ever seeing him in anything before. When you watch We Own the Night, you can't see Joaquin Phoenix and you don't see any character he has previously played. His style, presence, manner, behavior and the feeling he projects has never been seen before. This is Phoenix as we've never seen him. And that is every bit as exciting as it sounds.
As a final comment on the film-making, the very last scene is a dream in its power and simplicity. Though some viewers may be used to something showier, it is about as perfect a final moment as I could have hoped for. As far as Joaquin Phoenix goes, the man just keeps getting better. Apparently so does James Gray.
On the whole I think James Gray's movies benefit from his smooth
directing, no rushed and furious MTV editing. This leads to a good deal
of leniency from the part of critics (as with Night Shyamalan before it
became too obvious he was shooting the same narrative structure over
and over), a kind of prime for directors who don't harass the viewer
with images + sounds but let the camera roll and the actors do their
jobs, the story unfold and so on.
We Own the Night starts very well, the exposure is excellent. Even though the brother confrontation is definitely not new Joaquin Phoenix is so good you just get into the story and beg for the plot to become more complicated. Oops. The problem is the story becomes a one-way highway of the same old/same old. Joaquin Phoenix is ever so good you don't care too much until it becomes way way too much. In that respect (and lack of respect for the movie-goer) the movie ends in a lame way, rushing an happy and clean and tidy and moral conclusion.
The last lines (see the so-called "memorable quotes") say it all. It perfectly reflects that a smooth director may be too smooth on writing. Bringing sentiments before the camera is miles away from shooting scripted sentimentalism and I think James Gray has a problem with his characters' emotions since he is only able to play on pathos and good acting.
I saw this movie at a special screening in LA. There were lots of folks there from all walks of life and all ages - the movie seemed to go over very well with everyone in the room. The move is filled with some very tense moments and excellent performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall and Eva Mendes. Phoenix and Wahlberg work well together as the troubled brothers and Robert Duvall is perfect as always. I've seen some real stinkers at the movies recently (I won't bother you with the list because it's too long) so it was refreshing to see that movies can still be well made with characters you can care about and root for. Since the movie wasn't finished at the time I got to see it, I look forward to enjoying the movie again at local movie theater..
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is a real disappointment, especially if you enjoy most of
the past performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg. Both actors
have built a fine body of work, and Robert Duvall is one of the finest
actors working today. However, We Own the Night fell short in so many
areas I had to offset the otherwise love fest other users are having
with this movie.
You could blame the script, as the dialog was weak in spots, and uninspired throughout. Phoenix' character, who is both son and brother to New York cops, has chosen a different path. But very unfortunate circumstances lead to his immediate entry into the police force, as a parole officer, where he instantly becomes the De-facto boss of the narcotics division. Prior to this though, he is placed into protective custody, but is allowed to go back to his nightclub, or the apartment of his girlfriends mother, and to even walk the streets if he sees fit. Duvalls character is always either mad at one son or the other, and frequently makes boneheaded decisions and statements that keep sending Phoenix further along a downward spiral of hopelessness and self loathing. Wahlberg plays a role that is both under developed and boring.
You could blame the direction, especially during the last 30 minutes of the movie. What did start as a unique story with a convincing amount of tension slowly falls apart, and at the end becomes laughable. The ending is so anti climatic that it too becomes comical. As Phoenix and team are tracking the movie's arch nemesis through a field of reeds, he calls off the search, orders a retreat and sets the field on fire. The team waits for the smoke and flames to flush the bad guy, when Phoenix goes back into the field. Impervious to heat and smoke, he hears a rustle and drops our villain with a single blind shot to the heart. The bad dude utters "Bobby" (Phoenix's character) and dies. But wait, it's not over there! Phoenix dramatically (pun indeed intended) exits through the smoke to find all the other cops now well away from the field and encircling the venerable handcuffed master-mind of the movie (no need to get too much into detail, it would further ruin the silliness and humor of the moment).
The movie does have merits, as I said. It is a period piece and does do the nightlife of 1988 justice. The violence is gritty and there is a lot of tension built up as the story unfolds. Nevertheless, these cannot overcome the many short falls and agony that one must endure. You will be thankful when credits roll at the end.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How can anyone have enjoyed this film? It was so hokey I was open-jawed
through most of movie. Bobby is in hiding, with the badest of the bad
out to kill him, and he joins the police. That's a low profile, huh?
Then the chief swears him in conditionally (explains that he has to go
to the academy after he solves the case), then puts him on the raid of
the big drug deal. This is a guy who until recently was a coke-snorting
party animal running a nightclub. When the bad guys are ambushing his
motorcade when they are transferring him because the badest guy
escaped, the trailing car is missing and none of the cops even notice -
Bobby notices though. Then they shoot his driver (he manages to get
from the backseat into the driver's seat without mishap - right), and
the hit men inexplicably lose interest in him (the actual target) and
go after his dad in the lead car. Those are professional hit men for
you...at least in the mind of the cretin who crafted this silly story.
Of course, Bobby the club manager is the guy who shoots the bad guy
(who's last word is "Bobby" for some reason), then we go to the final
scene where he's graduating from the academy (as promised) and guess
what: he's the valedictorian. Wow! No middle of the class for this
screenwriter. Oh, and the single tear running down Bobby's eye when he
goes in to see his brother in the hospital was priceless.
Numerous other silly examples of unbelievable scripting are peppered throughout the film, but they are too numerous to list.
In summary: If you can completely suspend all rational belief, and you are easily entertained by people doing things that no human being who has survived to adulthood would ever do, then this movie is for you.
WE OWN THE NIGHT is the quote from the lower portion of the badge on
the uniforms of NYPD police family Deputy Chief Bert Grusinsky (Robert
Duvall) and one of his two sons Capt. Joe Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg):
the other son Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix) did not follow the family
tradition of police work but instead is involved in nightclubs - and
yes there is a schism of resentment. Bobby has distanced himself
further from his family by changing his last name to 'Green', living
with a Puerto Rican girl Amada (Eva Mendes), and bonding to a wealthy
Russian family who owns the nightclub where Bobby works - a front for a
drug dealing business. Writer/Director James Gray ('The Yards' and
'Little Odessa') has a feel for this underbelly of New York City and
captures the 1988 mood of life in the city and beneath the city with
style. The problem with the story is that it has been done so many
times that it is simply stale yesterday's lunch. Two brothers at
opposite end of the family spectrum require a major tragedy to bring
them together, and to offer any more information to this fairly thin
plot would be a disservice to those who plan to see the film.
The cast is strong, partly because each of them has played similar roles countless times and have the ideas down pat. It should be noted that two of the producers of the film are Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix, probably a reason the film was made... There are some exciting moments and enough surprises and tense times to keep the adrenaline rolling, the smaller roles are very well cast, and one of the shining attributes of the film is the gorgeous Russian liturgy inspired musical score by Wojciech Kilar. It is not a bad film; it is just too much in the same mold as countless other New York police dramas. Grady Harp
The Grusinsky family is a family of cops, father Bert is Deputy Chief
and son Joe is Captain. However son Bobby has shunned this side of the
family and, to Bert's chagrin, is using his mother's maiden name and is
running a club in Brooklyn, mixing with those who see the police as a
joke and the city as theirs. As a result the family is split, with
neither willing to see the others' point of view. When Joe leads a raid
on Booby's club and picks up several men of a high-profile Russian
mobster the outcome is bloodshed - with a hit put out on Joe. With the
Russians unaware of the family connection, Bobby must decide who he
stands with and the risks he is willing to take for his family.
We Own the Night came and went in the cinemas over here and struck me as being one of those thrillers that gets made that is solid enough to watch but not remarkable enough to do really well. This was enough to make me check it out anyway though and it turned out to be pretty much what it appeared to be in the overview. This is no bad thing though because a solid thriller is still a solid thriller and sometimes that is a welcome relief from all the noisy, superficial blockbusters handed to us week in, week out. Set in the 1980's, the film does recall the cop thrillers of the 1970's to a certain point and it does feel like an old fashioned film in terms of the characters and the way it is shot and the rather grey and oppressive feel to the city of the time does lend itself to the narrative.
It's not a film of gripping tension though. There are several really well done scenes that are unbearably tragic and tense (the shoot-out between cars is particularly good) but mostly the film takes a slower pace that focuses on the characters. It is a good direction to go but the problem is that Gray allows it all to get just that bit too sombre and heavy and it does have an impact on the film in regards slowing it down somewhat. This seems to have been passed onto the cast as well, who are generally restrained in their emotions - again not a massive criticism but it does feel a bit like all these factors are weighing down the film to a certain extent. Phoenix impresses despite this and he does convince in his character even if he himself comes over like he has a weight on his shoulders that is crushing him; I get that that is part of his character but again it adds this sense of slowness to proceedings. Wahlberg is underused and has too little time and opportunity to make the most of his character - he is very much a supporting player. Duvall is better because his presence adds more and the lack of time doesn't take away from him as he does what he has to do. I enjoyed seeing Mendes doing more than being her usual foxy and a bit playful self - trust me, I do love her in that mode but she is capable of more. Gray and his cinematographer provide style when it matters but I think he is mostly responsible for the rather heavy feel to the entire film and it does rather suck the energy out of the film.
I'm not suggesting that this film should have been zingy and "fun" but just that it is sombre to the point of being a bit too much like hard work at times. In terms of content, characters and themes I found that it all worked but that this sense of weight did affect it. Still a solid film that is dramatically satisfying in an old fashioned way but these issues do prevent it being as memorable as it could have been.
"We Own the night" is the story of Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix), a
nightclub manager who has chosen a life of partying, drugs and gambling
which is in stark contrast to his police captain brother (Mark
Wahlberg) and police chief father (Robert Duvall). As the film
progresses, Bobby is forced to choose between staying loyal to his drug
dealing Boss or siding with his family.
The greatest problem with this film is that its been done so many times before and with much better results. "Mean Streets" (1973), "The Departed" (2006) to name but a few. Director James Gray is obviously trying to do a Scorsese type feature here but it falls far short of expectations.
Joaquin Phoenix mumbles his way through the story with a one note performance and shows that he isn't capable of being a credible lead. The change his character goes through is implausible and Phoenix never gives you any reason to believe the metamorphosis as he doesn't act any differently through the whole process. The Script gives Robert Duvall (one of my favourite actors) little to do other than get angry at someone or something whenever he's on screen and Mark Wahlberg underplays his part so much that he's actually boring. The stunning Eva Mendes doesn't seem to do anything significant other than get groped in the opening scene by Phoenix. After that she seems to be there to provide the "eye candy" only.
The script is fairly weak and the plot does not justify the running time, 30 minutes less could easily have been achieved. There are also many situations that the characters get themselves into which no sensible adult would allow themselves to. This really stretches credibility and suspension of disbelief. Also, you'll particularly enjoy how inept the Hit-men are in this film ! The final showdown itself feels contrived and unexciting which caps off an uneven and somewhat thrown together production. I don't understand the rapturous applause that other reviewers have given this film, its been done so much better elsewhere.
"We own the night" is a misfire in my opinion.
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