Oct 25, 2007

We Own The Night

A very satisfying, hardboiled, soulful police drama with the increasingly fantastic Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg (who just doesn't do it for me) and Robert Duvall. Very well written and directed by James Gray, We Own the Night is a police family drama (yep) that is gripping and drips atmosphere. It's about two brothers, the cop, played (barely) by Wahlberg and the black sheep, Phoenix, in an amazing performance, who are the sons of a police bigwig. It is by all appearances a relatively conventional story, but in fact it is far more interesting than it lets on at the beginning. Phoenix is stuck in a sort of Hamletian dilemma. His father and brother want him to become an informant because he manages a disco where the Russian Mob is involved. Like Hamlet, first thing out of his mouth is, and what's it to me? Doesn't want to deal. But circumstances make him take action, unlike Hamlet who kvetches for over three hours and a half and finally has someone else put on a play.
It turns out that the antihero has more mettle and more balls and more principle than his straight- laced, self-important brother cop. In the end, it is a film about family bonds, about the family you are born into and the families you choose later in life, but it is dark and brooding and hard edged and that is why I loved it.
I also loved the music in this film. The Eighties' tunes are all cool and nostalgic, but I'm talking about the music by the Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, which is super moody and minimal and disconcerting and has an Eastern European air without ever sounding like Ochi Chornia. Speaking of Russians, Mr. Gray, being the resident expert because his parents are Russian immigrants, peoples his movie with extraordinarily convincing Russians and also great character actors as hardened NY cops, Danny Hoch, super good as a lightweight, cowardly dealer, and Eva Mendes, who is not only sexy, but damn fine as an actress.
New York in the Eighties (that is Queens and Coney Island -- I love that there is no Manhattan anywhere in this film) feels gritty and has as much character as the characters in the film. Looking at the bleak Coney Island landscapes in winter, I thought, boy is this the most charismatic city for movies, or what. No other city has the character, the pockmarks, the grit, of New York. Gray pays homage to the iconic car chase scene of the French Connection but has the balls to do it during a torrential downpour. It's fantastic.
It kind of gives me hope, having seen Michael Clayton as well, that there are still good films being made in the USA, with solid, bankable actors, good writing and great craftsmanship.

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