Sony // 2007 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // February 9th, 2008
Two brothers on opposite sides of the law. Beyond their differences lies loyalty.
With the 2006 Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination Mark Wahlberg received for The Departed, it brought the number of Oscar nominees in We Own The Night to three, the other two being Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) and Best Actor winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies). So now that it's out, does We Own The Night own Blu-ray?
James Gray (The Yards) wrote and directed this film about life in 1988 New York. Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator) is a fairly successful club owner in Brooklyn, and is dating Amada (Eva Mendes, Training Day). What Amada and his club associates don't know is that Bobby Green might not be his real name. It's actually Grusinsky, a name shared by his brother Joseph (Mark Wahlberg, The Departed) and his father Bert (Robert Duvall, Gods and Generals), both of whom are high ranking NYPD officers. At the celebration of Joseph's promotion to Captain, Joseph and Bert tell Bobby that they are investigating a patron of his club, one with significant crime ties. The man, a drug dealing Russian named Nezhinski (Alex Veadov, Thirteen Days) starts to see some of this investigation play out, and enacts retribution on the Grusinsky clan. While Bobby initially resists the intentions of his brother and father, when he sees them put in the crosshairs of physical violence, he decides to take action.
On the surface, We Own The Night definitely holds some promise. You've got a talented trio of actors together in a film that combines a lot of good ideas and puts them in the middle of a thriller and featuring a quite of bit of drama, but there are a lot of elements that just aren't interesting and are a little bit on the formulaic side. I mean, considering the era, we're talking about Russian gangsters in 1988, using dramatic elements that have been used countless times before and done with more effectiveness by lesser talented people. It's as if Gray wanted to make a film that wasn't a police film, and was a film dealing about family, though with a slight hint of noir thrown in for good measure.
It's kind of sad in a way because of the things that the film tries to touch on, if the relationship between Bobby and Joseph could have been flushed out a little bit better, this would have been a fairly profound film. Gray says in the commentary that he wanted to employ a little bit from Henry IV, but I think if the dynamic between the two was given a little more time to develop (and perhaps a little less time given to the relationship between Bobby and Amada), this probably could have resonated a little bit more. Gray was clearly onto something, I don't think he followed it through. Instead, you see Miami Vice, Q & A and a host of other police-themed films in its place, with music that is several years past its shelf life.
Technically, the MPEG-4 encoded 1.85:1 widescreen version of We Own The Night does look pretty solid, but doesn't appear to be reference quality by any means. Black levels are pretty solid (one scene showing a man walking into a completely darkened room shows how solid it is) and detail is fine, there's a variety of colors used in the film, even if it's not colorful, per se. However, the image clarity is a bit inconsistent during the feature and it suffers as a result. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is well focused with the dialogue, however it seems as if it were mastered a little bit poorly, and it's tough to hear. However, there is some subtle sound from the score and an occasional note of low end fidelity during the action sequences. It's the lack of a strong dialogue track that hurts it for me.
Supplements wise, these appear to be the same as on the standard definition version, starting with a commentary from Gray. The guy has got a fairly dry delivery but he does provide a bit of information. He talked about the films he had everyone watch to get into the frame of mind for this film, some of which were obvious (The Godfather, Panic in Needle Park), some were curious (The Leopard?), but he manages to discuss the finer points of screenwriting to some extent while discussing a tidbit from the production every now and then. It turns out to be quite the interesting track. From there you've got three featurettes that each run about ten to fifteen minutes and discuss the production in a little more depth. "Tension: Creating We Own the Night" looks at things from a higher level with discussions from the cast as to their process and working with Gray, and Gray discusses his inspiration for this script. "Police Action: Creating Cops, Cars and Chaos" examines the drug lab shootout and car chase sequences in a little more detail with the stunt coordinators, while "A Moment in Crime" discusses the hair, music and clothes, and finally Gray gives a satisfactory answer as to why the hell music from Blondie is in a film set in 1988! The obligatory Sony Blu-ray previews close this out.
Within Phoenix's performance is a man worn down by being chased and put into protective custody, but far more things happen to him over the course of the film. In We Own The Night, his pain tends to be emotional, and some of the things he does are predictable, but his transformation from happy and somewhat oblivious club owner to one that is a responsible leader of men is completed somewhat quietly, becoming in a sense, the head of the family. He becomes what Joseph might have been but wasn't able to, and that (along with the producer credit) is probably why Phoenix took the role.
You have two Oscar nominees and one Oscar winner put together with a script that is unfortunately rather dull and uninspired, despite all intents otherwise. The performances are decent, but you can pretty much see the end coming a mile away, and upon further review, it hardly seems plausible and comes across as just a tad silly. The supplements are good and worth checking out if you're a fan of the film or of the director, and you might get an occasional tip that might be beneficial, but there's much better fare out there.
Guilty as charged. Bring in the next case.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Writer/Director James Gray
* "Tension: Creating We Own The Night"
* "Police Action: Filming Cops, Cars and Chaos"
* "A Moment in Crime: Creating Late '80s Brooklyn"
* Official Site