Crack casting can’t rescue this cop cineViewers will inevitably draw comparisons between “We Own the Night” and 2006’s “The Departed.” Both are solemn cop dramas that revolve around two contemporaries on opposite sides of the law. Both feature some tense undercover moments. And both even feature Mark Wahlberg.
Viewers who make this comparison will also inevitably be let down. There’s simply no way that James Gray’s We Own the Night can keep up with Martin Scorsese’s earlier masterpiece that took home four Oscars.
But once that’s out of the way, We Own the Night isn’t a bad movie ? but it’s not good, either.
This is a shame, especially because the very capable duo of Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix both produce and star in the late-1980s-era We Own the Night. Wahlberg is newly named Captain Joe Grusinsky of the NYPD, and Phoenix is Bobby, his sexy, freewheeling brother. Bobby, a manager at a shady ? yet hopping ? Brooklyn nightspot, assumes the last name Green to escape association with his po-po pater ? the deputy police chief (Robert Duvall) ? and bro.
Gray’s predictable scene-setting presents Bobby and Joe’s lives as polar opposites. Bobby seems to live in a haze of flashing lights, pot smoke, lines of cocaine and continuous Blondie songs, punctuated by routine hanky-panky with his exotic Puerto Rican girlfriend Amada (a very pretty but petulant Eva Mendes).
Joe’s life, on the other hand, of course consists of tacky buffet dinners, a modest home and his three kids and “fat f***ing wife,” as Bobby derisively says. Joe’s only notable attribute is his insatiable desire to cleanse New York’s streets, a calling that motivates him to stage a huge drug bust in Bobby’s club.
Such tenacity in policing New York, however, leads only to a revenge-motivated, tragic pox on the Grusinskys, which pushes Bobby toward redemption of the police work variety.
We Own the Night is clearly Bobby’s story of seeking atonement, a familiar role for Phoenix, who played a grown-up version of a black sheep brother as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line.” But in Walk the Line, Cash’s wayward behavior is the result of past tragedy. In We Own the Night, Bobby is simply a hedonist who grew up in a nice family, then rebelled just for the hell of it.
Even in such an unsympathetic role, Phoenix admittedly puts on a good performance. The same goes for his supporting castmates. But the story of We Own the Night is too hackneyed: good boy takes the fall, bad boy redeems self by remaking his life. The tired plot isn’t helped by the abundance of cinematic cliches ? Phoenix cries a single tear at one point, then later engages in histrionics with a sobbing Mendes.
We Own the Night is just another example of squandered skill.
We Own the Night
Crime, drama / English
By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [email@example.com]