Phoenix, Wahlberg own on-screen

Andrew Gaug

COURTESY Columbia Pictures

Credit: DKS Editors

It takes a special director to avoid becoming formulaic in the age-old mixture of cops and broken families. It also takes a talented cast to rise above the usual conventions of the cop genre.

We Own The Night pulls both off with a fine cast ranging from another tremendous performance from two-time Oscar-nominee Joaquin Phoenix to decent turns from Oscar-winner Robert Duvall and Oscar-nominee Mark Wahlberg.

Playing like a modern retelling of the Bible’s parable of the prodigal son, the younger brother, Bobby Green (Phoenix), is a successful club owner who enjoys his girlfriend, drugs and money. In contrast, his brother, Joseph Grusinsky (Wahlberg), is an honored police officer who is following in the footsteps of his father (Duvall) in the career of law enforcement.

Trouble brews when Joseph has to bust Bobby’s club to try and bring down the head of a dangerous Russian mob before it brings truckloads of drugs into New York City. Lines get drawn when it comes to loyalty. Bobby has to decide whether to protect his wealth or his family when the Russian mob comes after them.

But that’s only a quarter of the movie. The rest deals with Bobby mending ties with his broken family, discovering who he is and, most importantly, trying to stay alive.

Writer/director James Gray directed Phoenix and Wahlberg in the unpopular The Yards. With hope, Night will do much better as Gray has captured a pre-90s New York City reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver where the sun never shines and every room the characters are in is a dull beige or an off-white.

In the movie’s most dramatic moments, Gray is able to build suspense without being over-the-top or navel-gazing. He even seems to understand that a shaky camera is only needed sparingly and, in one of the most climactic scenes of the year, uses it to its full capacity for an incredibly breathtaking five-minute car chase.

Phoenix and Wahlberg got their chance to shine in the past few years with Walk The Line and The Departed, and they deliver here in roles that require chemistry and a distinct sense of brotherhood. Even Duvall, who hasn’t done this good of work since Thank You For Smoking, gives his fatherly role a sincere amount of grit and love.

At a running time of more than two hours, the movie seems about 15 minutes too long. Often times, Gray seems to force the relationship between Bobby and his girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes), by throwing in scenes of them saying how much they love each other. Though Mendes gives a winning performance, her character is sadly lost in the ether, and most of her scenes seem to compromise the grit and realism of the film.

Come Oscar season, you probably won’t hear We Own The Night‘s name thrown around, but its gritty realism and great performances make it a solid, suspenseful drama for a night out at the movies.

Contact all correspondent Andrew Gaug at [email protected].