Director – James Gray
Writer – James Gray
Starring – Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes
Crime/gangster is a firm favourite genre of mine. Some of my favourite films of all time are of that genre and recent films like The Departed and American Gangster have been impressive instalments. We Own The Night is the latest ‘cops and robbers’ sub–genre flick that, despite it playing in familiar territory, is handled the right way to make for a perfectly enjoyable two hours.
Its New York in 1988 and Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) is a respected night club manager in a part of the city that’s riddled with crime. But unknown to everyone in his world except from himself and his girlfriend (Eva Mendes) he has changed his last name to protect his policemen brother (Mark Wahlberg) and father (Robert Duvall). They ask Bobby to inform for them against a Russian drug dealer that hangs around and deals in his club. After refusing to do so, his brother authorizes a raid on the club and Bobby is taken into custody. As a result sparks fly between the family as a debate arises about sooner or later Bobby is either going to be with his family or the drug dealers.
With We Own The Night there is admittedly nothing all that special in play. We have the familiar issues being dealt of family values, loyalty, gangster, drugs, cops and everything else that goes along with those things. But does that mean that you can’t have another movie involving them? In my book it certainly doesn’t. If it’s done in the right way, as it has been with this particular film, even the most familiar fair can be entertaining.
As mentioned previously the film walks the same territory as a lot of films before it, most notably last year’s The Departed. It’s not as similar as I expected from the trailer but still similar enough to bring about comparison. Although it doesn’t do it’s job as well as The Departed (although the conclusion is done a hell of a lot better) it still does enough to be thought of as worthwhile. The Departed was a winning success, both personally and at the Academy Awards, for director Martin Scorsese but it is undoubtedly the level of skill and depth that the film had that garnered it its praise. And like I said although We Own The Night isn’t working on the same level as The Departed, and I can’t see it winning any awards as such, that doesn’t at all make it a bad film, far from it.
Mark Wahlberg is one of those rare cases where I will give anything he’s in a shot. Even if it’s the same old stuff he’s been doing for the last few years (i.e. films like Shooter). There is just something compulsively watchable about the guy; he was certainly someone that pulled towards seeing We Own The Night. His character here is pretty much the same as it was in the aforementioned The Departed, although not quite to the same degree. The police uniform and loud moth led me inevitably to keep thinking of his previous role, which was sometimes a bad but often a good thing.
The standout role of the film and one of the best things about it overall was Joaquin Phoenix. Shown in 2005’s excellent Walk The Line he has some serious acting talent which he brings very professionally to the table here. I was unjustly sceptical at first about him playing this kind of role but after actually seeing him fulfil it I now realise how wrong I was.
Phoenix’s girlfriend in the movie is played by the lovely Eva Mendes. She serves no other purpose than to be eye candy for all the male viewers out there and even though she was pretty useless you could do a lot worse to have her as the love interest in your movie.
Apart from Phoenix the other stand out thing are some of the extended sequences, action or otherwise. One chair clawing car chase sequence springs particularly to mind, along with a drug related scene and the final inevitable shootout. There are plenty of other more than engaging scenes sprinkled throughout to keep the viewer interested until the end.
There are a few problems I had with the film but none of them major enough to put too much of a dampener on it as a whole. Like I said the film doesn’t tell the most original story in the world and there are few inconsistencies and mistakes that I noticed throughout but for the most part I have little complaint with it.
So in the end the film may not be the most original in the world but so what? If done right the old stories can still work fine, especially with the right cast and adequate director on board. It may walk a road well travelled but it does so in a thoroughly satisfying fashion.