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We Own the Night
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2008
The film is covering well known territory, and it doesn't bring totally new aspects into it. Just a normal "New York cops versus gangsters" flick, imagine a cross of the Departed and Eastern Promises.
We all know that in the 90s, Mr.Giuliani singlehandedly and famously cleaned up NYC (unless it really happened differently, eg via the mechanisms mentioned in Freakonomics). Before his magic touch saved the city, it appears that NY cops were the laughing stock of the streets. Gangsters were in control, it seems.
What we have here, set in 88, is a confrontation between a Russian drug ring and the cops, among whom the father and son team Duvall/Wahlberg is prominent. They have a prodigal son/brother (Phoenix), who happens to work as a night club manager for the Russians and has a Latina girl friend (Mendes). You see right away where this is leading, but then, no, you don't quite. The script succeeds in avoiding overdone predictability. With hindsight, no big surprise happens, but you never quite know how it will unfold.
In other words, if you like the genre, this is a first class product.
Some have given low grades here for the fact that it is not original. True, it isn't very. But I would rather watch a solid movie in a proven and interesting genre than an original bore in a new one.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2007
***1/2

Taking its title from the motto engraved on all NYPD officers' badges, "We Own the Night" is essentially the Prodigal Son story transplanted to the mean, crime-ridden streets of New York City. Robert Duvall is Burt Grusinsky, a high ranking police chief with two sons, one "good" and the other "bad." Joseph has eagerly followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a captain on the force, while Bobby wants nothing whatsoever to do with the police and, in fact, spends much of his time running around with the unsavory drug dealers who frequent the lucrative nightclub he successfully manages. It isn't until one of those associates has Joseph shot after a narcotics raid on the club that Bobby learns where his true loyalties lie. He agrees to go undercover for the force to unmask the identity of the shooter and bring down the Russian drug cartel that set Joseph up.

At times, while watching the movie, I kept thinking that writer/director James Gray had simply grafted the Michael Corleone story onto "The Departed." Still, despite its derivative nature, "We Own the Night" is a tightly scripted, occasionally ingenious police procedural featuring a riveting, knockout performance by Joaquin Phoenix in the role of Bobby. He gets solid support from Duval, Mark Wahlberg as Joseph, and Eva Mendes as the true love who doesn't feel all that comfortable with Bobby's sudden fascination with helping out the police.

Gray provides a number of highly suspenseful moments, as well as a terrifically mounted car chase through the rain-soaked streets of the city. The sound is also unusually effective, creating an often surrealistic sense of dislocation at crucial dramatic moments (though the Blondie-inspired soundtrack is slightly anachronistic for 1988, the year in which the story is set).

Bobby's conversion from lawbreaker to law enforcer is not always entirely convincing and we are often forced to accept quite a bit on faith just to keep the story rolling. In the long run, though, the polish and professionalism displayed on both sides of the camera ultimately lift the movie above its various imperfections.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
"Booed at the Cannes film festival (always a sign that a movie has good energy), James Gray's pulverizing crime drama is unafraid to put its passions right out where it's easy to mock them. We Own the Night is defiantly, refreshingly unhip." Peter Travers

A movie that does not have original material, but it works in spurts. The
dark underworld of Russian crime- this is the group du jour of crime nowadays. The New York City Police Department who in the 1980's according to Roger Ebert used the 'We Own the Night" slogan of the New York police, painted on the sides of their squad cars as a promise to take back the night from the drug trade. Two members of the NYP- Robert Duval and Mark Wahlberg as father and son want to bring that drug trade down. The other brother, Joaquin Phoenix, for whatever reason, has become the manager of a club that caters to the drug crowd. At opposite ends, oh yes. Until, until, something big happens and the son Bobby Green turns to the side of the law. Eva Menedes does an admirable job playing Bobby's love interest, and this emotional tangle brings this film some real credibility.

The action in this film and in particular the car chase on a wet rainy night with fog so thick you can barely see is a raw knuckle event. The raw and grainy fear is palpable, and I can envision the fear and heart racing excitement.

"But this is an atmospheric, intense film, well acted, and when it's working it has a real urgency. Scenes where a protagonist is close to being unmasked almost always work. The complexity of Bobby's motives grows intriguing, and the concern of his girl friend Armada is well-used. "We Own the Night" may not solve the question of ownership, but it does explore who lives in the night, and why." Roger Ebert

Recommended. prisrob 03-29-08

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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2008
One of the saddest things in film is watching the utter waste of impressive and potential talent. We Own the Night is one such film.

The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, and Eva Mendes and has the outline for a good story--two brothers on opposite sides of the law--despite it being somewhat unoriginal. Even with this much promise and generous runtime of two hours, this film manages to ruin all the possible good performances by under-developing the characters as well as cramming way too much into the plot.

Because of that very reason I will not go into the details of the plot. All that is really explainable is that as I said there are two brothers one a police officer (played by Mark Wahlberg) the other a night club manager (played by Joaquin Phoenix). Their father (played by Robert Duvall) is the police chief and he wants Joaquin to help him catch a major drug dealer. This sounds simple enough but there are more subplots that break of from there that don't leave enough time for each one so you never connect with any of the characters or their plights. Everything is so quick, easy, and comes together so simply that it reminds me almost of one of those B-grade TV movies that went straight to DVD.

It is so sad seeing the talent of two Oscar-nominated actors wasted. There is nothing wrong with both Wahlberg's and Joaquin's performances, but their characters are so by-the-book with no warmth or energy to them that it causes their performances to seem mediocre.

There is nothing striking about the film production everything is what we would see in many other gangster/drug lord films. There also seemed to be to many similar moments from others films including slow-motion shots.

By the end of the film I felt completely shut out from it, just hoping it would end soon. The only thing that made it even slightly bearable to tolerate for its' two hours was the fact that it had such a good cast who all tried their best with the material. It was as if they were on a sinking ship and even with desperate attempts to pump the water out and plug the hole the ship was still going to sink.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 21, 2008
James Gray's 1980s paean of a NYC family of cops vs. the Russian mob, "We Own the Night" refreshingly doesn't portray policemen as crooked or amoral, but, despite the star power involved, never achieves greatness, either. Sadly, the plot is predictable, and the climax, contrived.

This is not to say the film hasn't merit; Joaquin Phoenix, as the 'black sheep' son who dabbles in 'the dark side' before becoming an 'avenging angel' cop, is superb, as is Eva Mendes, who, for once, is allowed to show more depth than her usual 'window dressing' roles. Robert Duvall demonstrates a restraint in his 'father' role that has been missing in most of his recent work, losing the Southern twang for the crisp diction reminiscent of his earlier films. Surprisingly, Mark Wahlberg, in a more 'straight arrow' variation of his character in "The Departed", has little to do, and is completely upstaged by the flashier Phoenix, as well as by his Russian counterparts, the kindly father figure with a secret life (Moni Moshonov), and his ruthless drug lord nephew (Alex Veadov).

The film starts promisingly, with a flashy vision of Manhattan club life of the late 80s, run by the Russians, who are taking control of drug trafficking, and hold the NYPD in contempt and disregard, juxtaposed against the simpler, traditional world of New York's Finest, celebrating achievement, duty, and service to others. Phoenix, as the 'adopted' son of the Russians, and the actual son of a cop, is at the nexus of what might have been great drama, as he straddles both worlds. Yet when the film's first major climax occurs, the opportunity is lost, as he makes a decision that channels the film along a predictable path that offers few surprises.

Still entertaining, but far less than it might have been, "We Own the Night" is a good film that could have been great...
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2007
"We Own the Night" may not be the most original cop movie ever made, but it certainly is compelling. Taking place between late 1988 and mid 1989, it tells a classically redemptive story, putting all its effort into the main character and his transition from bad to good. But I'm making this sound far too simple: Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) is really not a bad guy at all. Misguided, certainly--he's established as the manager of a New York City nightclub, and as such, he's a freewheeling partier. But more importantly, he's detached himself from his immediate family, going so far as to use his mother's last name for business purposes. Instead, he chooses to connect with the club's Russian owner, Marat Buzhayev (Moni Moshonov). Understandably, this puts Green at odds with his father, Burt Grusinsky (Robert Duvall), and his brother, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg), both of whom are cops.

I think you can see the conflict here, but wait until the story really gets going. It begins when Buzhayev's nephew, Vadim (Alex Veadov), is suspected of drug trafficking; under Joseph's supervision, the police raid the club and arrest Vadim. This sets into motion a series of events that endanger the Grusinsky family, beginning with Joseph's attempted murder. While Joseph recovers in the hospital, Bobby feels the first pangs of remorse; no, he didn't get along with his family, but he never wanted to see any of them get hurt. For the first time in his life, he actually feels responsible for someone else's misfortune. He channels his pain into a plan of attack, resolving to catch Vadim and have him brought to justice. This can be seen in one of two ways: either Bobby is trying to relieve his own guilt, or he's actually hoping to redeem himself by being selfless. Quite possibly, it's a little bit of both.

But whatever his reasons, it quickly becomes clear that catching Vadim will not be so easy. Through a sting-gone-wrong, he learns of Bobby's involvement with the NYPD, meaning that Bobby is now forced to go into hiding. So is his girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes), the only person Bobby trusts with his family secrets. She clearly loves him, but she also finds it difficult to move from motel to motel and to avoid any contact with her mother. They're both trapped, but Amada has it worse simply because she's a victim of circumstance. Bobby, on the other hand, got himself into this situation, first when he refused to help the police keep tabs on Vadim, second when willingly chose to help the police. I don't know whether or not we're supposed to feel sorry for Bobby--that depends on what the viewer believes. But I do know that, as reckless as he was, he's at least trying to make a difference. Surely something can be said for that.

But maybe it isn't enough. "We Own the Night" presents a number of complicated, believable issues that are properly introduced but not entirely developed. The tension between the Grusinskys is understandable, given Bobby's rebellious behavior. But in any troubled relationship, behavior is only part of the problem. As fascinating as these characters were, I just know that they could have been much more realistic if given the chance--with just a little more development, they could have been deeper, more meaningful, more complex. I recognized Bobby's drive to right his wrongs, and while that aspect of the story is fairly unoriginal, I still appreciated it. But something more was needed, something solid enough to be realistic yet flexible enough to be entertaining. This film remains stuck in an area between the two, an area bogged down by routine material.

But at the very least, it does the best it can with that material, and ultimately accomplishes what it set out to accomplish. I did believe in these characters, and I definitely found their story interesting. More significantly, I longed for some kind of resolution, which I'm sure is what the filmmakers were hoping for. Beneath the violence, the hurtful words, and the hard feelings, there is an air of hope to this story. We want everything to turn out okay, simply because Bobby and Joseph are family, and family should always stick together. Or at least, they should in this kind of film.

As flawed as this movie is, it's still worth recommending. "We Own the Night" is a police drama about taking responsibility, whether it's for your own actions or for someone else's well being. I'm not naïve enough to think that this message is new. Obviously, it isn't. But I am easy-going enough to believe that it still works. And while the characters aren't as developed as they should be, there's still enough to keep them from being flat, shallow, and uninteresting. I could sense how badly this film wanted to connect with its audience; the plot was in a perpetual state of building, working itself up to an ending that would be both expected and appropriate. Generally speaking, it succeeded--the final lines of dialogue express what should have been expressed from the very start, which is not only satisfying, but necessary, as well.
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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
WE OWN THE NIGHT is the quote from the lower portion of the badge on the uniforms of NYPD police family Deputy Chief Bert Grusinsky (Robert Duvall) and one of his two sons Capt. Joe Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg): the other son Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix) did not follow the family tradition of police work but instead is involved in nightclubs - and yes there is a schism of resentment. Bobby has distanced himself further from his family by changing his last name to 'Green', living with a Puerto Rican girl Amada (Eva Mendes), and bonding to a wealthy Russian family who owns the nightclub where Bobby works - a front for a drug dealing business. Writer/Director James Gray ('The Yards' and 'Little Odessa') has a feel for this underbelly of New York City and captures the 1988 mood of life in the city and beneath the city with style. The problem with the story is that it has been done so many times that it is simply stale yesterday's lunch. Two brothers at opposite end of the family spectrum require a major tragedy to bring them together, and to offer any more information to this fairly thin plot would be a disservice to those who plan to see the film.

The cast is strong, partly because each of them has played similar roles countless times and have the ideas down pat. It should be noted that two of the producers of the film are Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix, probably a reason the film was made... There are some exciting moments and enough surprises and tense times to keep the adrenaline rolling, the smaller roles are very well cast, and one of the shining attributes of the film is the gorgeous Russian liturgy inspired musical score by Wojciech Kilar. It is not a bad film; it is just too much in the same mold as countless other New York police dramas. Grady Harp, February 08
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2007
In New York circa 1988, the Russian mafia have made it overseas to begin their drug-dealing business. Thrown into the mix is Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix), an upstart club owner looking to make it out of Brooklyn and begin a good life with his girlfriend Amada Juarez (Eva Mendez). However, when his estranged family, cops Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) and Burt Grusinsky (Robert Duvall), conduct a raid on his club, druglord and hitman Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov) begins putting prices on the NYPD's head, which leaves Joseph in the hospital from a gun wound. Because of what happened, Bobby agrees in becoming an informant to the police, but can he do it without putting whom he loves in danger or, more importantly, himself?

"We Own the Night" may look like an action-packed crime thriller for the salacious hounds to eat up (and I'm one of them), but not according to director James Gray. Recalling the classic police dramas of the '70s (right down to the poster you'll see outside your nearest cineplex), it does have action, but the majority of the picture deals with familial bonds, making difficult choices, and sacrifice. Gray, familiar with these thematic elements of "The Yards" (this film is basically a follow up with Wahlberg and Phoenix back together), doesn't disappoint, making this wannabe "The Departed" clone one of the most endearing surprises.

This is due to Joaquin Phoenix. His first film since breaking huge with "Walk the Line" back in 2005, Phoenix never goes overboard to shove in our faces that this film is a drama. He's able to make us relate to Bobby, and easily makes the character's decent into depression and despair work easily. As a matter of fact, this is more his movie than it is his and Mark Wahlberg's (still coming on strong post-The Departed), as the co-star hardly appears in the second half, leaving the majority of the action focused on Phoenix, though he gets good complements from Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, and Eva Mendes. It's impressive work from these actors.

"We Own the Night" does have its share of action, but since Gray is more focused with the meatier material, it's more subdued than slam-bang Hollywood actioners of late. There are three, which include a firefight inside a warehouse where cocaine is made, a "French Connection"-style car chase down a heavily-percipitated street, and a suspenseful foot chase inside a smoke-filled cornfield. Gray even furthers his inspiration from the classic police dramas by mostly having the sound effects do his work instead of setting them to a bombastic soundtrack.

Gray sort of robs the film of true potential by increasing its mood of depression for a crowd-pleasing moment of sentimentality with the cliched staploe of killing of a family member, then having Bobby and Amada get into an angry spat that puts a damper on the sweet by-play they had earlier. Regardless, that can easily be forgiven with Phoenix and/or Wahlberg's magnetic presences, and that aforementioned foot chase. And get this: no plot twists for the sake of plot twists. You really can't ask for anything better than that, honestly.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2008
The creators of this movie stole from the best and then squandered the booty. This movie is 100% derivative without an original element, except for the wildly improbable scene where a citizen is given a gun, a badge, and a police uniform and told to go out there and be a cop. The great Robert Duvall is wasted here; he shows up to recite the script, but forgets to act. Phoenix and Whalberg alternately over-act and forget-to-act. I wondered how two notable young actors ended up in this crime of a movie, then the end credits revealed they both were: "producers." Skip this one and rent "The Godfather" (where Robert Duvall remembers to act), "Serpico," "Prince of the City," or "King of New York" if you want real NYC crime, grit, and drama.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2008
Acting & production was up to par for a movie of today's caliber, which is why I give this movie more than one star.

The entire plot, on the other hand, has been so overdone throughout the years, that creating a movie of this style today would require more imaginative writing. This movie was predictable at many points, and beyond that, did not give me any "Wow, I never saw that coming!" moments.

Glad I watched it on PPV as the 99-cent special, rather than paying to see it in a theatre. Just never came close to hitting home with me.
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