a critiQal film review We Own the Night (2007)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: New York, 1988: A crimewave is sweeping the city, killing policemen at the rate of two a month. Bobby (Phoenix) tries to stay out of things, but when his brother (Wahlberg), a Police Lieutenant, is wounded and he finds out his father (Duvall), a legendary Deputy Chief, could be next, he can no longer stay neutral...so joins forces with his brother for an all-out assault on gangsters like Nezhinsky (Veadov) and his organization.

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With a cast that included Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall, we had high hopes for We Own The Night. Toss in a plot that was based around actual events, and we almost had no reason to check this one out in theaters. Still, we didn’t. Why? Well, this time around it wasn’t due to money shortages or anything like that, it had more to do with Joaquin Phoenix.

With Joaquin’s performances ranging from bad (Gladiator) to semi-okay (), he isn’t exactly a favorite of the site. Still, he keeps getting acting gigs and we keep hoping he’s going to improve. Maybe We Own The Night could let some of Wahlberg’s and Duvall’s performance rub off on Joaquin, and he’d get his chance to shine. After all, people were raving about his performance in Walk The Line – maybe Joaquin is finally improving! Still, we weren’t going to risk the big bucks to find out. Now that We Own The Night has hit DVD, well, that’s another story.

What is up with Joaquin crying in every film he does? Whether it’s Gladiator, or any of his other films, he always ends up bawling like a little baby at least once. Sure, it doesn’t hurt the film, but it’s getting a little annoying. Hopefully nobody decides to put Joaquin in a comedy – he would be a real downer when he started his crying shtick.

Apart from the afore-mentioned crying, Joaquin does actually pick up his performance a little bit in We Own The Night. While he isn’t on a par with either Mark Wahlberg or Robert Duvall in the film, he does finally seem to be grasping more of what his character is about, and does a much better job portraying that in We Own The Night than is typical for him.

The character seems to help, as Joaquin himself comes off in every film -at least a little – as a character with a somewhat shady past. In We Own The Night, he’s a drug user and associates with known criminals, so that shady-esque aspect of Joaquin actually makes sense. Sure, he’s not exactly the bad guy of the bunch, but he’s not exactly cleancut like his father (Duvall) and brother (Wahlberg) either. It doesn’t seem that he even knows he gives off that slightly shady aura, so that’s more of a credit to good casting than anything else. He would have been totally out of place as the “good brother,” but he fits in just fine as the “other brother.”

Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall, as usual, give very good performances, and are a great team in We Own The Night. Their characters are similar enough the viewer could justify the father/brother relationship – at least in their heads – from the get-go, and concentrate more on their performances.

Eva Mendes also gives it her all as Joaquin’s girlfriend, but seems largely wasted. From the first scene where she’s barely clad and highly sexual, she’s around as more of a plaything than anything else. Despite Joaquin’s vocal assurances to the contrary during the course of the film, their relationship seems rocky from the start, with Joaquin barely acknowledging her. As the film builds, and their relationship is put to the test, it seems obvious from the get-go they won’t last. But, the viewer won’t really care, as Joaquin never really seems to be into the relationship from the get-go.

Eva does care, and seems to spend most of the film trying to convince Joaquin’s character to feel the same way rather than just going through the motions, but that seems doomed from the start. Maybe Joaquin was concentrating so much on portraying his character’s interactions with the cops and the villains of the pic that he didn’t have enough energy left to concentrate on the relationship with his film girlfriend.

Having brothers on, basically, different sides of the law is a good setup for We Own The Night. With just that one plot point, the film has multitudes of ideas to build on, as they could then take that idea and run with it in so many ways. Of course there is going to be a confrontation of some sort where the “bad brother” will have to choose a side, but the buildup to that is definitely worth watching.

Unfortunately, the film falters a bit after the “bad brother” does finally choose a side, but once that is set in motion, the film is getting ready to wrap up, so the viewer doesn’t have a whole lot of time to get bored with the idea. In fact, after a rather pedantic revenge-inspired ending, the film wraps up and the viewer is left pleasantly satisfied with the turnout.

All in all, Joaquin’s greatly improved acting skills in We Own The Night, despite his apparent lack of trying/interest during the scenes of his relationship with Eva Mendes, helps make the film worth watching. With Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall lending tremendous amounts of support and an intriguing plot, We Own The Night is able to overcome the flaws in Joaquin’s performance and allow viewers to enjoy themselves.

Definitely worth a rental, We Own The Night may also inspire us to check out Walk The Line. Since we now know he can improve, maybe Walk The Line is actually worth seeing after all – despite Joaquin’s inevitable crying scene.

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