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Awesome: 20.45%
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5 reviews, 14 user ratings

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We Own the Night
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Boys, Boys! Can't You At Least Share The Night?"
4 stars

If you removed all of the blood and curse words, not to mention Eva Mendes’ first appearance, “We Own the Night” would be virtually indistinguishable from any number of crime programmers from the Forties or Fifties–the kind of film that passes the time easily enough if you stumble upon it on TCM late one night but not the kind that will inspire any extended tributes in “Film Comment” or lavishly-produced special edition DVDs anytime soon. This is meant less as a criticism than it is a simple observation. It tells an old-fashioned story in an old-fashioned manner and while those looking for amped-up thrills or jaw-dropping narrative twists will probably come away disappointed, I gradually found myself respecting and admiring the film and its creator, writer-director James Gray, for its willingness to observe the rules of classic cinema construction without coming across as too self-consciously retro for its own good.

Set in Brooklyn in 1988, the film tells the story of two brothers who, despite a similar upbringing, have gone down very different career paths. Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg) decided to follow in the footsteps of his police chief father, Burt (Robert Duvall), and has become an honored cop in his own right. His brother Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix), on the other hand, decided to reject everything to do with his family–starting with changing his last name to Green–and instead runs a flashy nightclub for a soft-spoken and genial Russian businessman ( Ed Shkolnikov) while partying the night away with drugs, gambling and smoking-hot girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes). Their two paths collide when Joseph and Burt ask Bobby for information on one of the club’s regulars, Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov), who is both the nephew of the man Bobby works for and allegedly a gangster so feared in the Russian underworld that when an underling is arrested, he slits his own throat rather undergo whatever depravations Vadim might have in store for him if there is even the vaguest suspicion that he said anything to the cops. Bobby refuses–at this point, he is closer to the Russians than to his own flesh and blood–but Joseph goes ahead with a raid that lands both Vadim and Bobby (briefly) in the slammer.

From this point, which is maybe a half-hour into the film, those of you with a background in crime films involving two brothers on opposite sides of the moral and ethical fence can probably guess how this story turns out in the end and in that respect, Gray offers up nothing that you haven’t seen before. That said, what is interesting is that while the end game is obvious enough, he throws us a couple of interesting narrative curve balls, none of which I plan on divulging, along the way that help to keep us on our toes while preventing the storyline from sinking into complete predictability. And when he gets to the sequences that absolutely have to exist in a film of this type–a couple of fraternal confrontation, the realization that certain characters are not entirely whom they appear to be and a violent car chase–he gets through them not by hyping them up to the point of absurdity, but by playing them in as low-key and realistic a manner as possible. (The rain-soaked car chase is an exceptionally good example of this in the way that it feels less like a highly choreographed set piece and more like what might actually happen in such a situation in real life.) The central performances are equally down-to-earth and unfussy–Wahlberg and Phoenix are convincing in their respective roles, Mendes takes the otherwise thankless girlfriend role and invests it more life than it probably deserves and Duvall once again demonstrates that he is one of those rare actors who is incapable of saying a dialogue that doesn’t sound like God’s honest truth when it emerges from his lips.

I’m not going to sit here and argue that “We Own the Night” is some kind of masterpiece–it is doubtful that clips will play a large part in any future AFI tributes to its stars and I would gently suggest to James Gray that, having done this film on top of “Little Odessa” and “The Yards,” two earlier films dealing with familial tensions, corruption, crime and mobsters, he might want to consider changing genres for his next effort. However, it is a good, solid bit of craftsmanship that gets the job done with a minimum of fuss and without boring or insulting the intelligence of its viewers. Considering how few films today can actually make those claims, I’d like to think that is worth something.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16762&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/12/07 00:02:58
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User Comments

12/24/09 Jeff Wilder Entertaining. But the script is preachy and predictable. 3 stars
5/06/09 DK Better than average, so-so script is helped by fine performances and moments of tension 3 stars
5/03/09 Monday Morning As with most films these days, a lot of TV shows are much better. 3 stars
3/27/08 Piz Kind of a letdown. Lots of potential but just fizzles out. A snoozer by the end. 2 stars
3/08/08 Anthony Feor It offers so much and gives so little 2 stars
3/02/08 Mark One of the worst movies I've ever seen. Horrificly written movie on an epic scale. 1 stars
2/17/08 Dan Bland. I'd give it 2.5 stars if I could, but it's not quite good enough for 3. 2 stars
2/12/08 action movie fab gritty.powerful drama involving cops and gangsters french connection style climax fizzled 4 stars
12/13/07 William Goss Besides a striking car chase, proceedings are thoroughly conventional. 3 stars
12/03/07 jonathan i love it. one of the best films for me 5 stars
10/15/07 Caryl David Excellent film. Edge of your seat suspense. Excellent direction, writing. 5 stars
10/14/07 Jules Fantastic work from Phoenix, several impressive suspenseful scenes and real atmosphere 5 stars
10/13/07 Private Standard crime family drama but with a 70's sensibility. 3 stars
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  12-Oct-2007 (R)



Directed by
  James Gray

Written by
  James Gray

  Joaquin Phoenix
  Mark Wahlberg
  Robert Duvall
  Eva Mendes
  Tony Musante
  Alex Veadov

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