Sunday, October 7, 2007

90 Second Film Review: We Own the Night (James Gray)




Those looking for depth, as always, are advised to search elsewhere.

We Own the Night is essentially three to four stunning sequences floating in a sea of mediocrity and cop clichés that were moldy when Sidney Lumet stopped using them back in the early nineties. Gray returns to filmmaking seven years after making his last gritty, method-infused drama of torn loyalties and families at odds, The Yards, and essentially remakes it here, only this time switching locals from the train yards to Russian-owned night clubs.

As Mike D’Angelo pointed out, this is basically the mirror image of The Godfather, with the younger sibling with criminal affiliations being drawn into the clean-cut world of law enforcement in response to a family tragedy with Joaquin Phoenix in the Michael Corleone role of the black sheep. The problem is it’s a mighty short ascent as the film goes out of its way to paint the character as acting just within the confines of the law (outside of the occasional belt of cocaine) so we see him turning his back on superficial trinkets and hanger-on friends as opposed to a moral code or even a highly evolved criminal lifestyle. The film sets its gears in motion too quickly to place Pheonix into the fold of the police force, negating much of the familial angst of brother versus brother, while setting up perhaps the dumbest plot development of recent memory (I won’t ruin it here but rest assured you’ll know when to scoff). Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall essentially share a character, and not an especially well developed one at that, while Eva Mendes looks really, really good in a corset and fishnet stockings.

There is, however, a good twenty minutes buried at strategic points where it gives hints of the potentially great film entombed underneath the dreck. Gray’s use of music is straight from the Scorsese play book, but there’s a reason such a thing even exists and the film employs it masterfully. The film opens to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” over a scene that’s indescribably erotic (although mostly implicit) that leads one to believe they’re about to watch a less technically accomplished version of Boogie Nights. There are also two set pieces during the film’s second act where you can feel We Own the Night threatening to become a film that actually calls attention to itself. The cutting becomes more acute, the sound design more attuned, the level of verisimilitude in the performances (which are usually terror) becomes more pronounced. The trailer sadly gives away most of this stuff as there’s really little to sell the film on without them. Two hours after I saw the film I could barely remember it. Ten days removed and it’s even less tangible. That says more than anything else I suppose. C

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