Posted by: kfugrip | October 15, 2007

Nintey-eight: We Own the Night

I work in the film/television industry (in a minor capacity at this point) and I worked on We Own the Night, written and directed by James Gray, and read the script two years before it started shooting. What does this mean as a viewer? Not much in this case.

SPOILER ALERT

We Own the Night is about Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) a club owner who lives in the world of organized crime and is on the cusp of becoming part of it. His other foot is in the world of law enforcement, because he comes from a family of police officers. Bobby gets caught up in a complicated war between the cops and the criminals and in the process his entire life changes, leading him to join the family tradition.

What I liked: The story of Bobby Green is Shakespearian in it’s scope. Like all classical drama, and good drama, the character starts from one extreme and ends up in the opposite. I like the journey and Phoenix pulls it off. The movie is being billed as two brothers on opposite sides of the law, and that is one of the elements of the story, but this is really Bobby’s story. James Gray shoots much of the film as if it were from Bobby’s point of view (i.e. the sound drops out in one of the gun fights because Bobby can’t hear), with a few exceptions. The only thing that it’s missing is Bobby being in every scene. Then there would be no question that it was a subjective film.

The performances are great at the top. Robert Duvall, always fantastic, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes… all embody their characters and are believable in their roles. [side note: Christopher Walken was originally cast as Bobby and Joeseph’s dad, but after shooting a few scenes he was fired and they had to reshoot those scenes with Robert Duvall. Excellent choice James.]

James Gray knows how to shoot a scene and his action escalates in an operatic fashion that fits with the high drama of the plot. The major set pieces of the film, the car chase in particular, are well done and exciting. My favorite scene was the “belly of the beast” scene that we’ve seen in a million other movies, where Bobby is wired and sent to a drug house. Bobby leaping out the window to save his life was a fantastic choice and felt like something a desperate man would do.

What I didn’t like: A bit too conventional. When the plot of your movie is as cookie cutter as this one then the filmmaker has to make the movie about something else. In this case it was about the familial ties. If that weren’t also a conventional attachment to the policier or the crime movie then I would be leveling my criticism at the movie, but many crime/cop movies are about the family.

The performance of some of the bit players and minor characters was terrible. Danny Hoch as Jumbo was the shining example of what not to do. Part of my bias comes from watching the dailies and seeing the poor choices he makes in scene. Most of these choices were taken out of the film but his character is still distracting. The actor doesn’t seem to be listening to anyone else in the scenes. He’s reading lines in what he perceives as an interesting way, but it’s not fitting with the movie. How does James not fire this guy?

3 stars

A pretty good cop movie that suffers from unfair comparisons to recent movies of similar ilk (The Departed).

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