Studio: Columbia Pictures
Film Length: 117 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Languages: English 5.1, French 5.1, Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Robert Duvall
Set during the 80’s battles between the Russian mafia and the New York Police, “We Own the Night” zeroes in on one small sub-story rather than tackle the overall situation. Enter Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix), up-and-coming club owner and overall popular on-the-street guy. His nightclub is becoming an ever more attractive venue for the Russian mafia drug trade that is sweeping the city. This is a bittersweet time for Bobby, since as his night spot becomes more in vogue, he must continually strive to hide his family’s long police history, going so far as to change his last name and break ties with them. The only person who knows his true familial connection is Bobby’s girlfriend Amanda Juarez (Eva Mendes).
Bobby’s father Albert Grusinsky (Robert Duvall) is the Deputy Chief of police, and his brother Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg) is a rising Captain and member of the cops’ anti-drug squad. When Bobby’s club is raided by Joe and his team, the local Russian mob members strike out for retaliation. Bobby is forced to choose between allowing the Russians to run a major drug smuggling ring through his club or to turn informant for the police and his estranged family.
It’s difficult to expound upon the plot beyond this point as it would ruin many great moments of the film. Suffice to say, the movie is very good and has some great twists in store for the viewer. Out of many well done scenes, the police transportation of a witness across town with the Russians in pursuit is particularly heart racing, as is the movie’s climax.
I loved the picture of this film, even though it was only a standard-def DVD. The resolution was sharp, but the whole film used a very muted color palette to great effect. You really get the feeling that this is the underbelly New York City’s crime world. It was gritty and personal but the film is not grainy at all, which I find to be relatively impressive.
As a dialogue-heavy movie, the center channel plays a huge role in conveying the feel the filmmakers intended. There is a soundtrack, but it’s very sparse and only used to reinforce the impact of specific scenes. The LFE channel gets some use here, but not in the areas one would normally expect, like gunfights and car chases. Instead, it’s used to provide a guttural reinforcement to the more dramatic scenes of the film. Case in point, the low frequency heartbeat used while Bobby visits a cocaine lab.
Along with the movie itself, the DVD also has several bonus featurettes, as well as a full length commentary with the writer/director James Gray. “Tension: Creating We Own the Night” is a wonderful example of how a behind-the-scenes short can be effective in providing additional information about the film and it’s cast. This featurette gives insight from the actors on how they get into character, their methods for working a scene, as well as the director’s take on his goals for the movie and achieving the right feel for the era.
“Police Action: Filming Cops, Cars, and Chaos” goes into great detail on two of the film’s notable action sequences, giving great detail about the hazards of this type of work, the stuntmen and the camera tricks used to accomplish it.
Finally, “A Moment in Crime: Creating Late 80’s Brooklyn” shares a wealth of data regarding the challenges of re-creating the music, clothing, and ambience of New York during the time period. I found the bit about providing wardrobe for over 300 extras to be rather humorous given the scale of the project.
At it’s heart “We Own the Night” isn’t really about the drug trade, but rather a story about the bonds of family and the changes that occur in ourselves when somebody we care about hangs in the balance. I was totally sucked in by the performances from all the main actors as they all turn in strong and convincing portrayals. “We Own the Night” is a fine drama and would be at home in anybody’s collection. I give it my full recommendation.