Rebel rebel

We Own the Night

We Own the Night
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Eva Mendes, Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall. Directed by James Gray. Rated R.
Rated 3.0

How much you enjoy We Own the Night will depend on how bright of a light you choose to shine on this dark and gritty crime drama.

It’s the late ‘80s, and Joaquin Phoenix is digging life as party-happy Brooklyn nightclub owner Bobby Green. He is madly in love with his smokin'-hot Puerto Rican girlfriend (Eva Mendes), and the Russian owner of the club (Moni Moshonov) is like the father he never had. But—and here’s where the trouble starts—Bobby does have a father, and his name ain’t Green. It’s Grusinsky. And the Grusinskys, including brother Joey (Mark Wahlberg), are a family of NYC’s finest.

It doesn’t take long for the subject to be broached, however, as the police start sniffing around the Russian mob drug ring entrenched in the scene. This sets into motion a course of events that force Bobby to subvert his rebel ways and help the cops, and his family, reclaim the night.

I won’t give away any of the handful of plot twists that ensue because if you’re content with looking at this as a two-hour TV cop show, those (at times inconceivable) jolts and the painterly tone are all you’ll have to watch for. And on that level, Gray and cinematographer Joaquín Baca-Asa succeed.

But once you start sifting through confusing thematic elements and picking at the details (the time period is supposed to be in the late ‘80s, yet looks more like the late ‘70s), it becomes much less satisfying.

Phoenix is effective as the who-gives-a-rip rebel, but the distance of his leap into grace is pretty unbelievable and ultimately hollow. Which might be the point here—if you’re going to live on the edge of danger, you might as well be having fun instead of risking it all for the drab stress of working against the night as a cop.