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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.45%
Worth A Look29.55%
Average: 25%
Pretty Bad: 20.45%
Total Crap: 4.55%

5 reviews, 14 user ratings

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We Own the Night
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Eugene Novikov

"Brilliant details"
4 stars

What struck me first and hardest about WE OWN THE NIGHT is how populated it feels. There is often a sense, even in very good films, that everyone aside from two or three characters might as well have been drawn in during post, since they're there mostly to take up physical space on the screen. Not so here. Here, the sets -- often crowded places like clubs and soirees -- teem with life, with people who seem like they could walk out of the frame and continue to exist. It's a remarkable thing, to step not only into a story but into a world. Precious few films provide that experience.

James Gray's third film is so compelling in this way, so meticulous, observant and generous, that I was almost saddened to see the story start up in earnest and inevitably limit the film's scope. The attention to detail manifests itself in both the screenwriting (richly drawn bit parts go a long way) and the direction, which tends to the little things and is careful to give us a sense of space. I had started to get lost in Gray's version of 1988 New York City; I felt like I could myself have walked out of the frame and wandered the streets of Brooklyn, though hopefully with a police escort.

That you actually want to spend time with the characters -- the main ones -- is still more gravy. In Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix), the see-no-evil club manager whose lucrative ties to the Russian mob are tested against his loyalty to his straitlaced cop brother (Mark Wahlberg) and father (Robert Duvall), We Own the Night finds what I think is one of the year's great protagonists, a shrewd, sympathetic realist. His relationship with his lovely girlfriend (Eva Mendes) is rare in the movies: the two lean on each other and do their best to help when it's needed, instead of bickering and yelling. There is strife, but even that is handled without hysterics.

The plot involves a Russian drug ring, and Bobby ultimately agreeing to turn state's evidence at great risk to himself after his brother is shot and his father threatened. It's compelling, if not earth-shattering stuff, though as the story progresses the movie retreats to the confines of motel rooms and offices, losing some of the texture that made the first act so utterly entrancing. By the time Bobby is himself deputized into the force, We Own the Night had sort of written itself into a corner, with the only way out involving a dangerous stake-out and a lot of guns.

Fortunately even the violence here has character, with the final confrontation taking place in a dank marsh and opting not to overwhelm us with violence and noise. But ultimately it's the resolution to a plot that's overshadowed by the film's look, feel and sound. Gray, obviously destined for importance, uses everything from a broken "o" on a typewriter to a scene in a cavernous church that actually feels like it takes place in a cavernous church to deposit us in a place and a time. We Own the Night is merely a good story, but nearly a great film.

(Reprinted from

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originally posted: 10/12/07 16:51:33
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User Comments

12/25/09 Jeff Wilder Entertaining. But the script is preachy and predictable. 3 stars
5/07/09 DK Better than average, so-so script is helped by fine performances and moments of tension 3 stars
5/03/09 Monday Morning As with most films these days, a lot of TV shows are much better. 3 stars
3/28/08 Piz Kind of a letdown. Lots of potential but just fizzles out. A snoozer by the end. 2 stars
3/09/08 Anthony Feor It offers so much and gives so little 2 stars
3/03/08 Mark One of the worst movies I've ever seen. Horrificly written movie on an epic scale. 1 stars
2/18/08 Dan Bland. I'd give it 2.5 stars if I could, but it's not quite good enough for 3. 2 stars
2/13/08 action movie fab gritty.powerful drama involving cops and gangsters french connection style climax fizzled 4 stars
12/13/07 William Goss Besides a striking car chase, proceedings are thoroughly conventional. 3 stars
12/03/07 jonathan i love it. one of the best films for me 5 stars
10/15/07 Caryl David Excellent film. Edge of your seat suspense. Excellent direction, writing. 5 stars
10/14/07 Jules Fantastic work from Phoenix, several impressive suspenseful scenes and real atmosphere 5 stars
10/14/07 Private Standard crime family drama but with a 70's sensibility. 3 stars
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  12-Oct-2007 (R)



Directed by
  James Gray

Written by
  James Gray

  Joaquin Phoenix
  Mark Wahlberg
  Robert Duvall
  Eva Mendes
  Tony Musante
  Alex Veadov

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