Writer-director James Gray might want to lay off on the writing part for a while. His films - Little Odessa, The Yards and now We Own the Night - have a lot going for them, but the scripts just aren't there. The dialogue seems borrowed from older, better movies, and you can almost hear the plots creak. On the other hand, the casts are truly first-rate. And Gray, in choosing the settings for his urban crime dramas, has wisely stayed close to home, home being the outer boroughs of New York City, where the Big Apple has lost its polish. We Own the Night, which stars Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg as Cain-and-Abel-like brothers on opposite sides of the law, is yet another attempt by Gray to lift a genre flick into the mythic realm, next to The Godfather. Alas, the grandeur seems forced, imposed by directorial fiat.
The year is 1988, with lines of cocaine stretching as far as the eye can see. And Gray zeroes in on the moment when it looked like the Russian mob was going to take over the whole operation. Phoenix, whose druggy performance may not make it into his career-highlight reel, is Bobby, a nightclub manager with a taste for the high life. And Wahlberg is his brother, Joseph, a cop so straitlaced it seems to affect the way he walks. As backup, there's Robert Duvall, who plays their father, a cop whose carriage is so erect he...well, you get the picture. Gray sets his cops-and-cons fable in motion when Bobby is asked to inform on the Russian mobsters who frequent (and possibly own) his club. He's spent his whole life running from the police - i.e., his family. And if the movie weren't so determined to shoot for the stars, we might have enjoyed the chase.