We Own the Night James Gray

We Own the Night James Gray

Whatever happened to the good old "policier”? It seems like eons ago when Scorsese shovelled shit to show us how cops and robbers really get down. Mean Streets looked mean because people shot first and asked questions later, and so on. These days, it’s a bit too much of the other way around. And it’s boring.

Thank goodness for Queens’ very own James Gray. The man has put the balls back into the crime melodrama. His method? Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix. Gray’s been using the two for his cop noirs since 2000, when The Yards dominated Cannes and men had a reason to frequent art houses again.

In Gray’s latest oeuvre, We Own the Night, Phoenix burns the screen as New York nightclub manager Bobby Green, a coke-happy party boy with sizzling Puerto Rican girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes) and a brother, Joseph (a flawless Mark Wahlberg), who wants to put him out of business. Joseph is a cop, so is their deputy-chief dad Burt (Robert Duvall, in Oscar shape).

Who owns the night? The Russians, obviously. They do their dirty work (narcotics, jewels, etc.) in Bobby’s club and Bobby’s family gets word. So NYPD’s finest raid the place and now Bobby’s a rat. And Russians don’t like rats. Things get sticky when the two groups learn of each other’s soft spots — Bobby being the cops’ and a nationwide coke cartel being the Russians’.

Gray is at his best here; he’s so good it’s scary. I can’t figure out if it’s his grainy eye for realism that drags you into the dread or his penchant for perfectly long-but-not-too-long takes that makes him the Nietzsche of cinema. When people eat, you hear the chewing. When tension ensues, you writhe in your seat. When night falls, you feel the chill. And when the going gets tough, the blood hits the camera lens. You’re practically there, only bullet proof.

It’s grittier than your average crime drama, just as it should be, which in the end makes it decadent. It’s just a pity that Gray banked on the one-dimensional Mendes as the femme feature. She’s brilliant at screaming, and crying. And screaming. And that’s about it. (Sony)