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, its a bit too much of the other way around. And its 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. Grays 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 Grays 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 Bobbys club and Bobbys family gets word. So NYPDs finest raid the place and now Bobbys a rat. And Russians dont like rats. Things get sticky when the two groups learn of each others soft spots Bobby being the cops and a nationwide coke cartel being the Russians.
Gray is at his best here; hes so good its scary. I cant figure out if its 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. Youre practically there, only bullet proof.
Its grittier than your average crime drama, just as it should be, which in the end makes it decadent. Its just a pity that Gray banked on the one-dimensional Mendes as the femme feature. Shes brilliant at screaming, and crying. And screaming. And thats about it. (Sony)