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Friday, December 21, 2007

WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007) - James Gray

James Gray’s We Own The Night follows a long tradition of cop and criminal dramas. It’s heavily influenced by some great films such as The Godfather, but despite this, We Own The Night falls a little flat. It’s not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just not remarkable either. Maybe I’ve set the bar a little high when it comes to movies, judging films as either incredibly brilliant or utterly terrible. Or maybe We Own The Night is just a very average film.

Taking place in New York in 1988, We Own The Night focuses on two brothers, one a cop, one a nightclub manager, and their father, also a cop. Joe Grusinsky has recently been appointed as the head of a taskforce charged with putting an end to the drug trade perpetrated by the Russian mafia. In order to do this, he needs his brother, Bobby Green’s help. Bobby has distanced himself from his family and ingratiated himself into the Russian community in New York. He’s a popular guy, and through his connections, he can be quite an asset to the police. However, Bobby is not willing to help his brother, unwilling to upset the status quo in his life. But as events unfold, and Joe closes in on the Russians, Bobby will be forced to choose a side in the war between the cops and the criminals.

The focus of We Own The Night is on Joaquin Phoenix as Bobby Green. He’s the catalyst for the film’s events and as such, the film pretty much rests on his shoulders. And Joaquin Phoenix does a fine job in the role. He’s a good actor, and as proved with Walk The Line, he can carry the film. However, the overall film is filled with some pretty contrived plot twists, lacklustre dialogue and clichéd characters. It’s this that brings the film down. Mark Whalberg, who plays Joe Grusinsky does a fine job with what he’s given, but it’s not much of a role. Robert Duvall and Eva Mendes round off the central cast, but both characters suffer from being unremarkable. We’ve seen these characters before. And we’ve seen them written better.

On the plus side, there is a very good car chase in the film. Shot during a torrential downpour, the tension is palpable as the gangsters close in on a number of the main characters during heavy traffic. It’s the only really memorable part of the film, and is quite good. The soundtrack is also filled with classic songs. It’s quite impressive that the Gray was able to get so many good songs to put into the film. It must have cost quite a bit in royalties. However, when the soundtrack is the best thing about a film, it pretty much sums up the weakness of the material.

As I’ve said, there’s nothing terrible about We Own The Night. It’s just not great by any degree. There are far better cop movies out there. And despite the best efforts of the cast, they can’t make a better film out of weak source material. A short review. But what else can you write about a film that is pretty forgettable once it’s over.


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