I wandered into We Own the Night expecting stellar performances that would rescue an otherwise so-so movie. And though the movie was definitely so-so (really, a few notches below), I can't blame the actors. After all, the script — riddled with clichés and sorely lacking any dramatic tension — didn't give the typically talented performers anything to work with.
Set in late '80s Brooklyn and Queens, We Own the Night stars Joaquin Phoenix as Bobby Green, the manager of a wildly popular mega-club. His real name is Grusinsky, and his dad, Burt (Robert Duvall), and brother Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) are devoted servants of the NYPD. But taking up his mother's maiden name keeps Bobby's background from interfering with his hobbies, such as recreational cocaine use and hanging with his hot girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes).
But guess what? Dad and Joseph are investigating a drug ring run by a Russian mobster who frequents Bobby's club, and they want Bobby to help smoke him out. The plot reads vaguely like The Departed, but the similarities end there, so
Bobby has no interest in being a rat, until his brother is shot and injured by the mobsters. Then he decides to go undercover to capture the bad guy, and the action unfolds from there.
Unlike The Departed and many other gripping police dramas, We Own the Night is neither gripping nor dramatic. The familial bonds that are supposedly so central to the story are hardly felt, since we learn very little about the characters or their motivations. The plot progresses in a very predictable arc, and for anyone who doesn't find it predictable, there is a lot of obvious foreshadowing to help us along.
Mostly, the movie, though unconventional, is disappointingly dull; it feels like an amateur filmmaker trying to make a serious movie. Thankfully, a few elements rise above mediocrity: Director James Gray does an excellent job of visually capturing the bleak but indulgent mood of the New York drug scene in 1988, and a climactic car-chase scene through the blinding rain is expertly crafted. Otherwise, We Own the Night comes dangerously close to made-for-TV fare.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures