Brooklyn, 1988. Crime is rife, especially drugs and drug violence. A Russian thug is building his heroin trade, while everyone laughs at the cops. Brothers have chosen different paths: Joe (Mark Wahlberg) has followed his father Burt (Robert Duvall) into New York's Finest; he's a rising star. Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix), who uses his mother's maiden name, manages a club. Bobby too is on the rise: he has a new girlfriend and a green-light to develop a Manhattan club. Joe and Bert ask him to help with intelligence gathering; he declines. Then, Joe raids Bobby's club to arrest the Russian. From there, things spiral out of control...
We Own the Night reunites writer director James Gray with two of his favourite stars – Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix. The three first worked together on The Yards. They had such a terrific experience that when Gray’s script found its way to Wahlberg and Phoenix they both decided to produce this film as well"¦ Here in may lie the problem.
We Own the Night is a New York based crime drama set in the heady '80s where disco ruled, champagne flowed and cocaine was in abundance. It is the story of two brothers who go head to head in a battle between Russian drug lords and the New York Police Department.
Robert Duval is Deputy Chief Bert Grusinsky. He has two sons – one, Joseph Grusinsky played by Wahlberg, is a Captain in the police force, dutifully following in his father’s footsteps. The other is Bobby, played by Phoenix, who runs one of New York’s most frequented and drug fuelled night spots. Inevitably, their paths cross and the results are predictably tragic.
We Own the Night starts off with gusto but rapidly loses steam and believability as the film unfolds. Gray’s script is disappointing. The whole drug king verses the good guys has been done so well so often that it felt quite clichéd at times. Gray tries to infuse scenes with drama and pathos that just isn’t there. The dialogue is over written and grandiose, making the actors look a little silly.
I was surprised to see Wahlberg in a drama so trying to resemble Martin Scorsese’s The Depatrted – he seemed very hemmed in. Phoenix wasn’t at his best either. Maybe because they were producers, they didn’t have the vital distance needed to see what works and doesn’t.
Whilst engaging at the start, We Own the Night falls way short of the mark and gets just 2.5 stars.