WE OWN THE NIGHT written and directed by James Gray, with Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall and Eva Mendes. A Sony release. 117 minutes. Opens Friday (October 12). Rating: NNN
If Michael Clayton resembles a high-end Sidney Lumet drama like The Verdict, James Gray's We Own The Night wants to be one of those juicy, street-level Lumets, a growling family melodrama in the form of a crime thriller.
Gray's earlier films, Little Odessa and The Yards, were exactly that, though more like Lumet on lithium. They didn't snap, crackle or pop.
We Own The Night seems to have been directed by someone who's actually seen an action movie, and let's give Gray (and cutter John Axelrad and second unit director Craig Haagneson) full credit for one of the most strikingly original car chases in recent years. The climactic shootout in the Long Island marshes is pretty good, too.
The film reunites the stars of The Yards, Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, who wanted to work together again. They also get producer credits.
The story is as old as crime dramas. Joseph (Wahlberg) is a cop, and his brother Bobby (Phoenix), though not a gangster, hangs out near gangsters, running the hottest club in Brooklyn. He has a generic Hispanic girlfriend (Eva Mendes).
To his family and their circle, all cops, Bobby might as well be selling heroin and porn to school kids, just because he likes to party.
Anyway, Russian drug dealers hang out in his club (wow, drug dealers in a nightclub, who'd a thunk?), so Bobby's father (Robert Duvall) and brother try to recruit him as an informant. When he resists, they start busting his club.
Then the bad guys start trying to kill his family, and suddenly he's a cop. This is when you start to resist the plot.
If you value narrative logic, you'll hate the last 25 minutes. The critics at the Cannes screening booed, and I can sort of see why. The first 90 minutes are very good, though, and they mark a leap forward for a director whose thrillers previously wavered between dour and depressing.
On the other hand, I have to ask, "Who owns the night?" They've wasted a perfectly good vampire movie title and never clarified its meaning. And when they tell us that Bobby owns the hottest club in Brooklyn, I'm guessing they really mean it's the hottest club in Brooklyn in 1986, judging by the music, none of which is played in the 12-inch club format.