In We Own the Night
, Joaquin Phoenix
, whose eyes burn with sullen anger even when he's looking at the woman he loves, plays Bobby Green, a nightclub manager in the 1980s who gets caught between his blood family he tried to leave behind--a long line of police officers--and his chosen family of friends and business partners, who turn out to be drug dealers. His father (Robert Duvall
) and brother (Mark Wahlberg
) want Bobby to help their investigation, but Bobby resists--until the conflict takes a brutal turn. Writer/director James Gray wears his influences on his sleeve; he's clearly seen every movie that Martin Scorsese
and Francis Ford Coppola
ever made and aspires to follow in their footsteps.
The familiarity of the movie's territory dilutes its impact, but the plot of We Own the Night remains unpredictable, the performances have a clean vitality, and Gray's moody visual style brings some life to the genre. Phoenix (Walk the Line) dives into his role, sifting through layers of guilt and familial resentment; Wahlberg and Duvall play parts they've essentially played a dozen times, but do so with commitment and integrity. Also featuring Eva Mendes (Ghost Rider) as Bobby's devoted girlfriend, who questions just how much she'll have to give up for him. --Bret Fetzer
Director James Gray (The Yards
) posits two distinctly different brothers--Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) and Bobby Grusinsky (Joaquin Phoenix)--as the central characters in this crime-infested thriller. Joseph and Bobby inhabit two conflicting worlds in late 1980s New York, the former becoming a cop and the latter running a nightclub. Bobby spends his evenings in a den of iniquity, indulging in drugs, alcohol, and gambling, and his attractive girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes) is never far from his arm. Their two worlds meet when the father of the two men, Burt (Robert Duvall), who is also a cop, gets together with Joseph to ask Bobby for information about a patron of the club named Vadim (Alex Veadov). Vadim is the nephew of the club's owner, and also a dangerous member of the Russian criminal underworld. Bobby sides with Vadim, and the tension in Gray's brother-versus-brother potboiler reaches melting point as Joseph goes after both his sibling and his Russian foe.
Wahlberg, Phoenix, and Duvall all deliver high-calibre performances throughout, and Gray suffuses the plot with enough twists and turns to provide a few surprises. New York City is perfectly utilised as a backdrop to the action, and cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asay manages to get the balance between moody, atmospheric shots and explosive action sequences just right. We Own the Night
ultimately resembles an old-fashioned cop film with a little Scorsese-like drama thrown in for good measure, and is likely to gain a following among movie fans seeking retro crime thrills.