We Own the Night **1/2 (out of ****)

Director: James Gray
Writer: James Gray
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes, Tony Musante, Alex Veadov
Rating: R (violence, sexuality, language, drug use)
Running Time: 117 min
Release Date: 10/12/07

Set in 1988 before Rudolf Giuliani restored order in New York, We Own the Night is a gritty police drama. The title is motto of the NYPD street crimes unit. As events unfold we find that bold claim was rather in dispute. The Russian Mafia was the new villain in town and they had none of the self restraint that characterized La Cosa Nostra when it came to targeting the police. The plot centers of a father, Bert Grusinsky (Robert Duvall), who is an assistant police chief and his two sons. Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg) followed in his father footsteps. He has just been promoted to captain in the NYPD. The other son, Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix), who dropped his father name in favor of his mother maiden name, is the manager of a trendy night club.

Bobby is a stark contrast to his father and brother. He is a drug user and lives with Amada Juarez (Eva Mendes), his very attractive Puerto Rican girlfriend. This places him in a somewhat delicate position as it is rumored that the owner of the club, Marat Bujayev (Moni Moshonov), is a kingpin in the Russian Mafia. So Bobby goes by his mother maiden name but we soon see that he isn’t fooling either side. Bert warns him that “it’s a war out there” and that sooner or later he will have pick a side.

Event move rapidly when Joseph leads a police raid into the club for drugs and associated money. He arrests Bujayev’s nephew Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov) who happens to have just ask Bobby to join him in the drug trade. Joseph tries to impress Vadim with his power by tearing up his wad of hundred dollar bills. One might think it would make more sense to just pocket Vadim’s money but Joseph isn’t a dirty cop. However, Vadim isn’t the kind of man one should underestimate. He is soon out on bail and Joseph is critically wounded in an ambush as he returns home one night. This event forces Bobby to finally choose sides and throw in with the police by volunteering to do an undercover sting on Vadim’s cocaine operation.

This is no overkill action film. The violence is comparatively brief and lethal. The human stress and emotional pain that the characters feel is well played. On the other hand its credibility is challenged in places. The film has much more of a 1980 feel with songs Heart Glass and Rapture by Blondie playing the club. This may be a trite observation but it seems to set the plot in a time before the heyday of the Russian Mafia. It’s also unclear why Vadim trusts Bobby given his police connections? Is it really credible that he wouldn’t know? However, the atmosphere and suspense of the film still make it a gripping watch. If you like dark and brooding cop movies check this one out.

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