BY PATRICIA DRAZNIN
Reflecting the motto of determination of the NYPD street-crimes unit during the 1980s narcotics boom, We Own the Night takes us through some very personal territory about cops and their families when city police were losing their lives to the drug trade. In this revisit to circa 1988 New York, We Own the Night stages a powerful Hollywood cast on a reasonable premise, but runs terribly short on script.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Bobby Green, the non-conforming son who changes his surname to dissociate from the family legacy that serves the New York City police force. Instead, he carves his own niche as the rising manager of El Caribe, a popular Russian-owned nightclub in Brooklyn where drug dealers gather. Bobby’s brother (Mark Wahlberg) and dad (Robert Duvall) warn him that he will have to choose sides and join the cops or the dealers. Which means it’s only a matter of several screen minutes until El Caribe gets raided and Bobby lands in the pokey.
But even a stellar cast can’t rescue a story that’s been flattened by unimaginative dialogue and an all-too-obvious trajectory, not to mention the absurd indiscretion of a proud Russian dealer, which provides the film with a necessary turning point. And by the time the movie passes the halfway mark, it becomes apparent that writer/directory James Gray (Yards, Little Odessa) is fresh out of new ideas.
With a story ripe with recent history and a cast that leaves no performance under-served, including Eva Mendes as Bobby’s sizzling girlfriend, whose character borders on babe cliché, We Own the Night examines the themes of fate, family, conflict, and duty. But unlike, say, The Godfather, where a turn of events puts the moral son at the head of an underground empire, We Own the Night fails to take us somewhere—anywhere—that we didn’t expect to go. C