No year could be considered complete without the obligatory cop-family/friend drama, cast with seasoned actors. We Own the Night, takes the spot this year and is Sony Pictures late push for an Oscar bid.
It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Bobby Green, the manager of a Russian mob owned hot spot, El Caribe. He also happens to be the son of Burt Grusinsky (Robert Duvall) and the brother of Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg), both of whom are employed by the New York Police Department. And, no shocker here, they disapprove of the freewheeling lifestyle he lives and dislike his Puerto Rican girlfriend Amada Juarez (Eva Mendes). As events progress badly for them, they come to the realization that family honor is all they really have and everything must be done to preserve it.
Seeing as movies like this have been done numerous times in one form or another (The Departed comes to mind), We Own the Night needed a differentiating factor to set itself apart. Generally, the way to accomplish that is to write an impeccable story, have innovative directing and have first rate actors and actresses carry the film. We Own the Night nearly hits one out of the three targets. The screenplay (written by James Gray) is good, but it doesn’t offer an ‘outside the box’ story that would make this a memorable affair. Mostly, the characters are predictable and uninspiring, and even more shameful is the plot is full of holes that require a pausing of common sense to believe. The director (also James Gray), doesn’t try and jazz up the movie from a filming perspective either. I thought I was in for something special after watching the opening scene, but aside from an interestingly shot car chase scene in a downpour, the movie follows the same basic shot selection that I’ve seen hundreds of times before.
The only positive note, and the reason I said We Own the Night hits nearly one out of three is due to the fantastic job Joaquin Phoenix does. He’s been traveling a logarithmic trajectory since he starred in Gladiator. His portrayal of a high-on-his-horse party-boy who sacrifices everything for personal salvation and his family honor is almost worth the price of admission. The characters Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall play have no range or challenge for these actors. I also hope that cops are not nearly as pathetic as they’re made out to be in this film (remember I mentioned common sense earlier in the review?). Eva Mendes doesn’t offer much to the movie either, unless of course you count the unexpected and pleasing nipple shot (which of course I do).
So long story short, what do you get with We Own the Night? Not much. Had the actors done more with their roles and had James Gray attacked the genre from a new perspective, this may not have been the case. So all we’re left with is a lackluster drama with few thrills and far too many inconsistencies. In lieu of going to see this, donate the ticket cost to your local PBA (Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association) – we need to make sure our cops are up to the task.