Director: James Gray
Writer: James Gray
Cinematographer: Joaquín Baca-Asay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes
Studio/Running Time: Columbia Pictures, 117 min.
"And everything looks so complete
When you’re walkin’ out on the street
And the wind catches your feet
Sends you flyin’, cryin’
Wild night is calling."
-Van Morrison “Wild Night”
Since most cop films follow well-worn plotlines with specific character types, there’s a sense of unfulfilled anticipation when said characters never materialize
. Such is the case in We Own the Night
, a thoughtful crime thriller set in 1988 New York and produced in part by its stars Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, who play conflicted brothers. The lack of cinematic stereotypes is not exactly a detriment to the story, however, instead coming as a refreshing change.
Wahlberg plays the hard-nosed, New York City cop Joseph Grusinski who tries to clean up the city’s drug trade while his brother Bobby Green (Phoenix) manages the hottest nightclub in Brooklyn, an establishment where drugs are a big part of the attraction. A clash becomes inevitable, even more so because their father (Robert Duvall) is the deputy chief of police. Wahlberg’s role is incredibly reminiscent of his performance in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed, though not nearly as powerful. And Duvall could have called it in and done just as well. Phoenix, however, gives another strong showing as a man unwillingly pulled through a life-threatening transition, thus greatly improving a fair-to-middling script. Bobby so disdains his family’s idealism that he even changes his last name, a move that unwittingly reveals no police ties to his drug dealer friends. But when his brother is hospitalized by an assassin’s bullet, Bobby agrees to infiltrate the drug ring.
There are no dirty cops in We Own the Night. Rather, we see good guys trying to do the right thing. Instead of surprising us with abrupt character changes, director James Gray (Little Odessa) takes us through Bobby’s personal torment in self-discovery as he realizes how strong his blood ties really are. Phoenix does his best work in roles like these—a guy struggling with some form of internal suffering. From Clay Pigeons to Gladiator to Walk the Line, and again in the upcoming Reservation Road, Phoenix never fails to hit the emotional high marks he sets, showing why he’s one of the screen’s greatest talents.