Without knowing if he is or not, I’m willing to bet that director James Gray is a fan of The Godfather. His previous films, The Yards and We Own the Night show flashes and flourishes of The Godfather so familiar, it’s uncanny. Also, while The Yards featured Sonny Corleone, We Own the Night features Tom Hagen.
As a matter of fact, while watching We Own the Night, I was unsure who had directed it, but after a few all too familiar scenes, I reached a conclusion. It had to be Gray, and damn if I wasn’t right when the credits rolled.
If ever there is a Part IV, or dare I say it, a remake, of The Godfather, I hope Gray is the guy behind the camera. His two last movies feel like he’s actively lobbying for the position.
On top of that, I also thought We Own the Night looked awfully similar to another recent classic when I saw the trailer. The Departed. Right down to the casting of Mark Wahlberg.
OK, so enough of what We Own the Night feels like. Is it good enough standing on its own?
Joaquin Phoenix plays Bobby Green, an owner of a popular night club in Brooklyn, NY who uses his mother’s maiden name so no one knows that he is from a family of cops. Meanwhile, his bro Joe Grusinsky (Wahlberg) and pop Al (Robert Duvall) are onto one of Bobby’s customers, a pure evil Russian drug dealer by the name of Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov). He just sounds evil, doesn’t he?
Anyway, after Joe and Al barge into Bobby’s club and crack some skulls, Vadim takes it personally and goes after the Grusinsky family. And that’s where I’ll end the plot description because We Own the Night packs in some good surprises over the course of its running time.
And although We Own the Night wears its inspiration on its sleeve, it still can’t quite make up its mind as to what kind of film it wants to be.
At its heart, the film is a character study about Bobby and his fate and destiny (which again is eerily familiar to Michael Corleone’s fate and destiny), but Phoenix is never able to inject him with much of anything beyond brooding and outbursts of anger. Meanwhile the rest of the cast is serviceable without getting in the way, or being memorable. So We Own the Night works best as an action drama. And the scenes involving action are very tense and expertly filmed.
So don’t expect much from We Own the Night and it will surprise you. Expect too much, and you’ll be disappointed.
We Own the Night is given a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The colors are slightly washed out to reflect New York in the late 80’s and the picture is appropriately gritty. However, the picture is clear and crisp, despite some slight grain.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very good. Action scenes make good usage of the sound stage. While the gun battles don’t crackle with the crisp highs and deep lows of action films, they are tense enough to put you on the edge of your seat. The music and dialog are also handed perfectly.
Commentary with Director James Gray – Gray gives an interesting commentary recounting the filming process that lasted over six years. He explains that all the actors originally turned him down, but after a long courting process, Gray eventually won Phoenix and Wahlberg (who had starred together in The Yards) as well as Duvall and Mendes. Gray also discusses the various themes at hand in the film, and how he wanted to give the viewer a deep viewing experience, so the film would hold up during repeat viewings (just like The Godfather!). Gray also drops cool nuggets about how the drug house shootout was based on a real case and how he is bored with filming most action sequences. He also does a good job of explaining why the climactic shootout was a bit of a letdown. All in all, a very good commentary.
Tension: Creating We Own the Night – is a standard “making of doc” which explains why the filmmakers decided to set the film in the late 80’s, as well as the fates of different characters, themes and acting strategies. Learn how Phoenix went to great lengths to piss off Duvall before filming a scene. Pretty good stuff.
Police Action: Filming Cops, Cars and Chaos – discusses filming the action sequences and how Gray tried to create an original car chase. Also goes into detail about the stunt work during the tense drug house action sequence.
A Moment in Crime: Creating the Late 80’s Brooklyn – is about setting the film in New York at a time when crime was at an all time high. The filmmakers discuss how they recreated the 80’s, a decade so rich with detail and how they avoided the cliches of the decade while maintaining the gritty look of New York at that time.
Previews – includes trailers for Vantage Point, 21, Walk Hard, Across the Universe, Damages: Season One, Revolver, Southland Tales, Sleuth, Revenge Extended Cut, Donnie Brasco Extended Cut, Taxi Drive and Steep.
We Own the Night is a familiar film, and while it doesn’t quote know what it wants to be at all times, it is always entertaining and thrilling. The end fizzles out a bit, but we find out why on the commentary. The A/V specs are solid, and the special features are surprisingly rich and informative. If you’re a fan of any of the films it gets inspiration from, you might want to own We Own the Night.