Dir/scr: James Gray. US. 2007. 105mins.
A self-conscious evocation of the crime and punishment police thrillers that were once a speciality of Sidney Lumet, We Own The Night is an average B-movie with delusions of grandeur. Transparent plotting and dubious moral grand-standing are the main drawbacks in a film that lacks the weight that it so desperately wants to achieve.
Co-stars and co-producers Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix currently carry considerable box-office heat which should give the film a fighting chance and The Departed showed that audiences will turn out for a serious, adult thriller that eschews the guilty pleasures of a Bruckheimer product.
We Own The Night offers neither guilty pleasures nor subtle satisfaction and will face an uphill struggle to makes its mark domestically. Foreign markets may be more resistant to its very old-fashioned and very American feel.
Seven years after The Yards, writer-director James Gray returns with a film that seems to have cherry-picked its inspiration from the fatalism of the 1940s film noir, Warner Brothers gangster films of the 1930s and the car chase that William Friedkin staged for The French Connection (1971).
Set in the Brooklyn of 1988, it follows the moral dilemmas of cocky club manager Bobby Green (Phoenix). A black sheep rebel, he has taken his mother's maiden name and denied a family heritage that has created a dynasty of cops.
Phoenix is well-cast and his bad boy charisma creates a good deal of sympathy for Bobby especially when we are introduced to the smug, self-righteousness of his brother Joseph (Wahlberg), a rising star in the NYPD, and their macho father Burt (Duvall playing a good dozen years younger than his actual age) who is deputy chief of police.
Bobby's outsider status is further confirmed by his Puerto-Rican girlfriend Amada (an underused Eva Mendes). Most viewers will be way ahead of the plot as Bobby is inevitably drawn into the family business when he becomes the one trusted insider who could provide a link to Russian drug-dealer Vadim.
It only takes an attempt on his brother's life for Bobby to determine where his true priorities lie and soon he is risking life and limb to work undercover and nail the scumbag dealers.
By the end of the film he seems to have completed an unconvincing journey from Al Pacino-style renegade to true blue John Wayne hero.
We Own The Night offers little in the way of narrative surprises. This is the kind of film where as soon as a character gruffly promises to protect someone they will wind up dead in the next reel. Betrayal comes from an entirely predictable source. Even the soundtrack use of contemporary hits from Bowie and Blondie feels uninspired.
A desperate car chase in the driving rain briefly brings the film to life but it is all so wearily familiar even as it tries to convince us that this is a Greek tragedy of twisted loyalties, sacrifice and tragedy.
Nick Wechsler Productions