THE third thriller written and directed by James Gray, We Own the Night returns him to the milieu of his auspicious debut, Little Odessa – among Russian immigrants in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn – and reunites him with Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, the stars of his second feature, The Yards.
The two play brothers in We Own the Night, which is set in 1988. Phoenix is Bobby, the swaggering, cocaine-snorting manager of a thriving Russianowned nightclub that’s a haven for drug dealers. Wahlberg is Joseph, an earnest man of principle who has followed their dedicated police chief father, Bert (Robert Duvall), onto the force.
Bert strongly disapproves of the company Bobby keeps and that he has taken his mother’s surname, although that conveniently hides his family’s police connections from the criminals. Bert gives Bobby an ultimatum that sums up the storyline and illustrates the archness of the dialogue: “Sooner or later you’re going to have to be with us or the drug dealers, because there’s a war out there.”
The brothers are at odds with each other until an attempt on Joseph’s life forces Bobby to realise that blood is thicker than water. However, his overnight transformation is too abrupt to be convincing in a movie that is disappointingly conventional and mostly predictable, and lacks the moral complexity at the core of Little Odessa, which remains Gray’s most satisfying film to date.
We Own the Night is partly redeemed by the sweaty tension with which Gray injects a number of well-staged setpieces, in particular an edgy undercover operation and an exciting multi-vehicle chase through torrential rain.
Like father, like son: Duvall and Wahlberg