Under the direction of writer/director James Gray, the new thriller We Own The Night spews and sputters from opening to close. Every great crime drama established in the last few years appears melted together in Gray's film to illuminate a dry storyline that sizzles with unoriginality and a cinematic blackened lung.
With such films as 2006 Academy Awards Best Picture winner The Departed so tastefully and masterfully made, it seems that Night acts only to exhaust the genre with entertainment that neither engages nor evolves as the clock ticks forward.
The film itself is swollen and, as the first hour is reached, an eternity of nothingness has passed with a second eternity of nothingness to follow. By the film's credits, audience members will be climbing the seats to get away. It is unfair to say that Gray did not attempt to make a decent film, but however hard he tried, he simply failed.
The plot throws no new ideas around; it never surprises and leaves the audience waiting for it to thicken or, at best, appease. Revolving around two brothers on opposite sides of the law, the story feels borrowed from Martin Scorsese, trying to reprint an instant classic. Mark Wahlberg, who plays the chivalrous Joseph Grusinsky and son of police captain Burt Grusinsky (Robert Duvall), seems in the movie only for the fact that he was the last actor to work with Gray (2000's The Yards, also with Night co-star Joaquin Phoenix), and he was a significant piece to the success of Scorsese's The Departed.
With all the promos putting his name before everyone else, Wahlberg's on screen for about 40 of the 118 minutes of the film. Phoenix, who plays Bobby Green, begins and ends as the focus of Gray's vision. Stretched scenes of no relevance, sloppy and sideways character development, and a serious need for a rewrite fill the remaining spaces onscreen. Both Phoenix and Wahlberg perform towards their respected pay-grade, however, and if there are any good features to the film, it is the sheer presence of their talent.
Duvall and Eva Mendes, who make up the majority of the supporting cast, have futile and trite roles. Duvall's purpose sprawls into exaggerated speeches brimming with conflicted metaphors and no morals to come away with. In essence, Duvall plays a confused Confucius that is too detached and senile to realize that half of all he says is pointless.
Mendes did more for the story of Stuck On You than she could have for Gray's story. As the girlfriend of Phoenix, she served to only stimulate the male spectatorship, which without her would have to rely on quick blasts of second-rate action in between drab, extended plot scenes.
There were one or two refreshing shots, nevertheless. A car chase scene, for example, was filmed convincingly with a quiet humming that suggested the actual authenticity of its inception. Unfortunately, this was the longest action scene in an otherwise broad and boring film.
In the end, the film could exist with the same legitimacy if Phoenix was the only character ever seen onscreen. No matter how clever Gray thought We Own The Night would be, everything in it is just another dramatic cliché clipped together without enthusiasm. We can only hope he doesn't make a new movie for another seven years.