Sunday, May 15, 2011

Flick of The Day: We Own The Night

Taking its title from the motto of the NYPD Street Crimes Unit, the now disbanded unit legendary for its no holds barred attempts to clean up the streets of New York as it descended into nightmarish levels of crime in the 1980's, James Gray's film is steeped in nostalgia for an era when the City was not the wholesome tourist destination it is now. This is something which has been documented before in the likes of Scorsese's Bringing Out The Dead and the work of Abel Ferrara with films like King of New York and Bad Lieutenant.
Set against the backdrop of the ongoing and bloody war between the NYPD and the Russian mafia in 1980's Brooklyn and Brighton Beach, where Bobby Green, ably played by Joaquin Phoenix is manager of the hottest night club in town, which he manages on behalf of a Russian mafia front, unbeknownst of course. Bobby has a secret known only to his girlfriend, played by Eva Mendes, he comes from a family of cops. His father Bert, Robert Duvall in patriarch mode, is the deputy chief while his brother Joseph, a surprisingly good Mark Wahlberg, is a rising star. Together, Bert and Joseph are engaged in an investigation of the Russian gangsters who control the drug trade in the area. They attempt to reach out to Bobby, who blind to the actions of his Russian friends rebuffs them. It is only when the war on the streets begins to hit home that Bobby is forced to try and bring an end to the carnage that has engulfed the city.
The real strength of this film is the atmosphere and look that director James Gray has created. He seems to have a great feel for the material and there is much to enjoy in terms of the sights and sounds of 1980's New York from the music in Bobby's Club to the dark gritty violence that pervades the film, it pulls the viewer into the period and retains interest while the at times dense plot develops. It is helpful of course that all of the leads are in fine form, with Pheonix character having to carry much of the film as he transforms from a morally bankrupt Club manager to a crusading cop. A hefty transformation for any film to carry. The other saving grace of the film is a nuanced script with some memorable lines.

Joseph Grusinsky: I don't need any more guns in my life, that's for sure. But you should have one to be safe. It's better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.

Coming in at just under two hours, the film doesn't feel overly long and given the weighty storyline involved could easily have become a chore with a more indulgent director.That said, it is sombre in tone and those expecting constant action will be disappointed, with the plot playing out over the course of a year, giving it a more realistic feel.
All in all, this is a decent look at a very interesting period of recent history and anyone with a passing interest will find much to enjoy. The leads excel in what are at times stock roles with particularly fine turns from Joaquin Phoenix and Eva Mendes. Well worth a look.

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