Thursday, October 18, 2007

We Own The Night

James Gray set out to make a dark, gritty crime drama. He wanted it to be dark, moody, intelligent, thought-provoking, intense, and memorable. He only missed on 6 of those traits.

We Own the Night (2007) tells the story of Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix), the black sheep of the Grusinsky family. Bobby is the club-running drug-hazed brother/son of 2 high-powered members of the 1988 New York Vice Squad. His father Burt (Robert Duvall) and brother Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) take turns running the vice squad. To distance himself, Bobby has changed his last name.

Bobby is living a self-indulgent life with his girlfriend Amada Juarez (Eva Mendes) and his close friend Jumbo Falsetti (Danny Hoch). He runs a club for the Russians and spends his time getting high.

Meanwhile, Joseph is promoted to run the Vice squad. Bobby and Amada show up to his party high, leave early during the moment of silence for yet another fallen NYPD officer, killed by the Russian drug mob. Not too long after, Joseph leads a raid on El Caribe, the club Bobby is running. Bobby and a Russian hood are arrested. The hood kills himself rather than talk, Bobby and Joseph fight.

Later that Thanksgiving night, Joseph is shot by a hooded gunman, Burt resumes that role. Bobby is approached by Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov), the strong-arm face of the Russian mob and the man Joseph had been after during his raid, to be a distributor. In the conversation Vadim is very up-front about not only having arranged the attempted slaying of Joseph but of his plans and ability to kill several other important city officials.

Bobby then tries to help the cops to get revenge on Vadim. He and policeman Michael Solo (Antoni Corone) set up an undercover search for Vadim's distribution house which ends disastrously. In the shootout he breaks several bones.

This gets Bobby and Amada moved to a safe house. When she sneaks out to visit her mother their hiding location is revealed. This results in them needing to be moved. During the move Vadim's organization kills several policemen including Burt.

This inspires Bobby to become a policeman which in turn causes Amada to leave him for not consulting with her. Like most other plot developments, this makes no sense, but...whatever. How bizarre are some of the plot developments?

In the end Bobby finally puts together the pieces, and he leads the police when they raid the big incoming drug shipment, wipe out the Russian mob and Bobby is the hero. He directs experienced policemen despite being a probationary officer not even given a gun. Uhm...okay.

At the end of the movie Joseph is moving to administration since flashbacks keep him from being effective in the field and Bobby is rapidly advancing in rank over men with years of service.

The story had tremendous potential. Family conflict, moral questions regarding drug use, a scary opponent in the Russian mob, themes of love, loyalty, and betrayal...but it is poorly written and horribly executed. Take the sub-plot of Amada for example.

She loves her mother and Bobby. She is very supportive of him. She wants to get to know his family. They party together a lot, always laughing, smiling, and high. She wants to spend more time with him, but he keeps leaving her to run the club, visit his family, visit his patron. She stays with him. When they go into hiding she stays with him. She takes an interest in his life. But as they are high less often they smile and laugh. She still tries to be part of her life but he more or less ignores her. When she leaves it makes no sense within the film...only from the morality play standpoint. Bobby moves from happy and worthless to miserable and a good, effective cop...without a woman. It could have made sense. It could have been a great story arc. Instead, when she left it leaves you scratching your head and saying, "Huh? What happened?"

The camera work is abysmal. It makes the action hard to follow, has no visuals that stand out, and the choice of film stock was, at best, interesting...and could have been better. This seriously had independent film production values. Even worse, it spent a lot of money to get them. Why? It did not add to the "feel" of the movie, it was inconsistent.

The audio was equally bad. When you notice the audio for being annoying and distracting, that is not a good thing. It also did not make sense. For example, in the shoot-out at the drug house it suddenly transported you to what Bobby was hearing...or rather, the ringing in his ears preventing him from hearing. In the car chase the audio was very muted and bizarre...both the motivated sounds and unmotivated sounds were difficult to identify or relate to what you were seeing on the screen.

Even the acting fell short. With a cast involving Robert Duvall and Mark Wahlberg you figure you are in good shape. But Duvall seems wooden and his acting doesn't ring true. Wahlberg does a solid job but Phoenix is heinously bad. Early in the movie he is stiff and whispers to display being high. Late in the movie he is stiff and whispers to display sorrow. In the middle part of the movie he is stiff and whispers to display confusion. I could not tell the difference between his "high" mode and his "valedictorian of the police academy" celebration speech. It was an appallingly bad performance.

Eva Mendes seemed to be there explicitly so they could see how many hair styles she could look good in during the movie. If she was in 31 scenes then she had 31 different hairstyles. It was amazing. Not entertaining enough to save the movie, but certainly awe-inspiring.

In short, this movie is a probable Oscar winner since it was easily the most boring movie I have seen this year. Save 2 hours and change of your life and 20 bucks...go buy the Transformers DVD or something. Or watch Heat (1995), a dark, gritty, brutal, bloody crime drama with an unsatisfying end, much like We Own the Night, but at least it is interesting on the way there...or watch The Transporter (2002) for a movie about redeeming the hero. Just don't waste your time on this one.

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