Directed by: James Gray
Premise: A nightclub owner’s (Joaquin Phoenix) estranged relationship to his law enforcement family, including his father (Robert Duvall) and brother (Mark Wahlberg), becomes more complicated when hostilities between drug dealers who frequent his club and local police escalate into a war.
What Works: We Own the Night is a prodigal son story, with Phoenix as the estranged son who works his way back to his roots. The relationship between the three men is done well and each actor plays territory they have staked out in the past, with Phoenix as the emotive and whinny son, Wahlberg as the stoic badass, and Duvall as the tough but tender father figure. The cinematography in the film is done well, using lots of shadows in a noir-like style, and it also features some interesting sound design. These qualities come together in a car chase that stands apart from similar sequences in other pictures. It is filmed almost entirely from inside of the car and uses sound very sparingly to create a much more intense sequence than the screeching and throbbing chase scenes moviegoers are used to seeing.
What Doesn’t: As a prodigal son story, We Own the Night follows a fairly standard formula and so a lot of the film is predictable. Although it is playing upon the tension of Phoenix character’s double allegiance, the film never really entertains the possibility that he might go the other way, and misses both an opportunity for greater conflict and a chance to give the character more concrete heroic qualities. The weakest element of the story is its lack of a proper antagonist. A lot of cops in the film claim that the streets are turning into a war zone but that is never substantiated in the story. The chief villain (Alex Veadov) is intimidating in his scenes but he does not get enough screen time or come into enough conflict with the protagonist be an effective villain.
Bottom Line: We Own the Night is a crime drama cast in the mold of better films like The Departed. While it is not as good as that film, it is a solid drama with some nice character work and some well-done action scenes.
Episode: #165 (November 4, 2007)