‘We Own the Night’ movie review: Joaquin Phoenix soars in New York crime tale

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We Own the Night, director James Gray’s first film in 7 years, details a compelling if conventional cops and dealers story that hits enough high points to make it shine, if not soar. 

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Bobby Green, manager of the popular NYC nightclub El Caribe, who keeps his family life secret from his friends and colleagues. 

The reason: his father Bert Grusinsky (Robert Duvall) brother Joe (Mark Wahlberg) are police officers working to bring down the drug dealer nephew of El Caribe’s Russian Mafioso owner. 

When the dealers strike out against the cops and leave Joe in a hospital, Bobby finds himself in an interesting situation; he has the ability to help his family, and the police, at the potential cost of his safety the life he has been accustomed to. 

As something of a procedural, the film works, and is highlighted by a number of tension-packed scenes. Dramatically, however, there is something missing. 

Part of the problem is that we never care for the people that Bobby has chosen to surround himself with, including girlfriend Eva Mendes, and this his internal struggle is means little to us; there’s never any doubt about what decisions he should or will make. 

Still, this is Phoenix’s film, and he adds a lot of weight to the role; a less empathetic performance could’ve sunk the movie. 

Duvall and Wahlberg are solid but underused.

 Pic shares many of the strengths and weaknesses of Gray’s previous two films, The Yards (which also starred Phoenix and Wahlberg) and Little Odessa; all three provide an interesting take on crime in the Big Apple.

We Own the Night

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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