We Own the Night (review)

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The 1980s New York City evoked by this flawless, seamless crime thriller — of working-class cop parties defined by trays of baked ziti and chicken marsala, of the glam nightlife of drug- and booze-soaked dance clubs — is the exquisite backdrop to a story so drenched in raw, ineffable male anger and love, so equally perfectly pitched, that it howls with authenticity. Decorated Brooklyn cops Joseph and Burt Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg: Invincible, and Robert Duvall: Lucky You), an inseparable father-and-son team, approach club manager Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix: Walk the Line) with a proposal: help them take down the Russian drug dealer who’s using his club as a base of operations. Why should Bobby help? He’s their, respectively, brother and son, though he’s so embarrassed by the family that he uses his mother’s maiden name… which makes him precisely positioned and carefully hidden at the same time. The startling turns that take Bobby toward possible reconciliation with his family recall grand crime dramas from GoodFellas to The Departed, and writer/director James Gray (who made the underrated The Yards a few years back, also with Phoenix) graces us with moments so beautifully eerie and grim that they are instantly fixed in the memory as classic gems of cinema — such as the finale, a footchase for bad guys set among the marshy wetlands at the far reaches of New York City, a setting I’m not sure we’ve ever seen on film before. Wahlberg continues to astonish as an actor finding a wide range of character and expression within such a seemingly small scope — any surface similarities here to the character he played in The Departed are instantly dismissed. But this is Phoenix’s film, and he is riveting as a man who is stunned to discover he has scruples.

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