Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes and Robert Duvall star in the cop thriller We Own the Night, a slow paced but entertaining film that keeps you intrigued from beginning to end.
We Own the Night is about two brothers, one a decorated cop, the other a not-so-respectable figure. While Joe (Wahlberg) has just been promoted to captain of a new narcotics task force, Bobby (Phoenix) has become the manager of a popular night club. He has an attractive, loving girlfriend (Mendes), but uses drugs, lacks responsibility and hangs out with drug dealers. When his father, the chief of police (Duvall), and Joe crack down on his club to get to a notorious Russian dealer, Bobby finally finds himself at the crossroads: does he help his family, or continue riding that fine line?
The movie is a slow-moving thriller, and at times the pacing could have been better. Still, writer/director James Gray keeps things going well enough, allowing Bobby to slowly transform from a rather sleazy loser to a respectable hero. Those looking for tons of action should look elsewhere, but We Own the Night offers several pretty good sequences that piece the more dialogue-driven scenes together. A rather unique car chase scene is one of the many highlights of the film.
There is a lot of setup in the first half of the movie, which does a good job of establishing the characters and the relationships between everyone. The dynamic of the father and the two sons is a good one, and it is certainly interesting to watch them play off one another. Phoenix delivers a great performance and overshadows the others involved, including Wahlberg, who is just okay, and Duvall, the man I expected to be the show stealer. Mendes is also surprisingly good in one of her more serious roles (though she is still here mainly to look pretty).
Things pick up in the second half, and there are several little surprises or developments. It is here where we see that Gray's pacing is intentional, for the most part, and that everything he did in the first half was to gather up strength for the second . Again, We Own the Night is not an action movie, so I'm not saying things become explosive near the end, but it definitely packs more of a punch as it goes along.
All that being said, We Own the Night could have benefited from tightening in a few places. Had five or ten minutes been edited out, the movie could have flown at a more reasonable pace. On top of that, there are a few developments that didn't make too much sense. SPOILER ALERT. I didn't buy into the sudden decision by Phoenix to become a police officer, and, more significantly, the acceptance of the NYPD to put him on the force with no formal training whatsoever. Do they actually do that? This new job seems like a convenient way to get Phoenix into the action at the end, where he foolishly goes hunting for the main bad guy by himself (after the police light a field on fire to flush the guy out). Compared to the bad endings I've seen this week, We Own the Night is pretty tolerable, but Gray pushes the believability factor just a little bit.
Despite a few flaws, We Own the Night is an enjoyable, moving drama-thriller that offers some very good performances and an entertaining story. It's a shame this one hasn't done better at the box office, because it is a step above what you'd normally get out of the genre.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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