Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We Own the Night. B+

There's a moment in James Gray's 'We Own the Night' that gives off to the viewer what path Joaquin Phoenix's character is going to take. It's a cringe inducing moment for most, as they question the plausibility of this crime drama that appears to be taking itself dead seriously. Being one of those viewers, I still find myself pondering over why I liked the movie so much, why it is still clinging to me and making me think about the narrative and the characters. In the movie, Phoenix plays the roue, a nightclub owner named Bobby Green who, though not an emphatic criminal in the least, allows risky business to go through his club with ease. He also has a top notch girl, the ignorant Amanda, played by Eva Mendes. On the opposite side of the law is Bobby's brother, Captain Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg) and the father, Deputy Chief Albert Grusinsky (Robert Duvall). After brother and father break into Bobby's nightclub looking for a drug dealer, Bobby becomes even more furious in his estranged relationship with his family. But after Joseph is shot (he barely survives), Bobby decides he wants to avenge his brother's near-death by helping to bring down the drug gang, led by Russian mobster Vladim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov). This is just the beginning of an incredibly convoluted plot, but I won't spoil the rest for you here. Instead lets discuss what makes the movie work, the plot aside. First of all, I found the performances to be quite superlative. Though none of the actors deliver their best work (with the exception of Mendes, though that's not saying too much) they all deliver the goods and somehow manage to sound believable, though in reality we know it would all be quite an impossibility. Also, the movie is well directed. James Gray, whose recent indie drama 'Two Lovers' received critical acclaim, handles each scene carefully and makes the most of the suspenseful moments in the film. Take the climatic scene in the fields for example, or when Vladim discovers that Bobby's lighter is bugged. This leads to one of my favorite scenes in the movie. It's a car chase sequence involving three cars in the rain. The sheer blood-curling effect that scene had on me demonstrates the command Gray possesses on the other side of the camera. I'm not quite sure how the scene was shot, but there may have been some CGI involved. 'We Own the Night' could be called the most cliched crime drama ever made. So why did it work so well for me? It's hard to tell. All I can tell you is that for two hours I was intrigued by every twist and character, foreseeable as they may have been.

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