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We Own the Night

Sony Pictures // R // February 12, 2008
List Price: $38.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted February 8, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

I really only remember We Own the Night for two things when first appeared in theaters. The first was that my overall thoughts on the title were of some lyric in a Ronnie James Dio song (or equivalent '80s semi-satanic and semi-glam heavy metal act). It makes you want to grab your crotch and say it like a rawker too. "We Own the Night! Waahhhh!!!" The other thing I remember is that a co-worker of mine and my wife went to the theater, both of them wanted to see very different films, so they settled on this one. And I'm guessing a lot of people are going to feel the same way about it too.

Nevertheless, We Own the Night was written and directed by James Gray, whose previous film, The Yards, included Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) and Mark Wahlberg (Three Kings), who are the main stars in this film. The two play brothers on opposite sides of the law; Joseph (Wahlberg) is a recently promoted police Captain while Bobby (Phoenix) is a New York club owner whose friends are more of the seedier type, even if he doesn't get involved with them. Their father (Robert Duvall, The Apostle) is Deputy Chief of the Police Department and has watched the brothers' relationship splinter as well. When a prominent crime figure (and frequent patron of Bobby's club) is targeted by the police as part of a larger sting operation, the crime figure, who has ties to the Russian mob, targets Bobby's brother family, he wonders what he can do to stop it.

The performances seem to carry some weight; set in 1988 New York, Duvall, Wahlberg and Phoenix possess an accent that's subtle and might be more convincing as a result, and Bobby's girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes, Ghost Rider) even has her moments as Bobby's strong willed and supportive better half. But the story itself seems to want to touch on a lot of different things without stopping to concentrate on one, and it seems to lose some emotional effectiveness as a result. It fears the mob but the fear doesn't seem to be palpable among too many people, and considering we are talking about the late '80s, it almost seems like an extended episode of Miami Vice, just without any Colombians. The familial dynamic is fine, and there are scenes where some of that muted male affection is slightly poignant, though that clearly could have been a stronger part of the film. The feeling of wanting to approach several different things and not execute them convincingly seems to bleed over to other aspects of the film from time to time. For instance, to pick on a minor production design tidbit for a second, for a production that's supposedly set in 1988, why is there so much Blondie being played in clubs? Whoever thought about that seemed to be a half dozen years behind the music curve, but I digress.

Ultimately, while there's an occasional interesting thing that happens during We Own the Night, the main storyline is one that's a little bit muddled, and feels oddly predictable in the last act or so. The performances are capable, in fact, Phoenix seems to have the best character arc as the main character and how the crime wave is affecting his family and his relationship with Amada. But to put things in perspective for a second, I stopped watching this with a half hour left to go to attend to something offline, and wrote down how I thought the film would end, and my prediction wasn't too far off. It's a shame, as the talent deserved better material than what they had to work with.

The Blu-ray Disc:

We Own the Night comes to the high definition world in a 1.85:1 presentation and uses a MPEG-4 codec in the process. Most of what transpires occurs in the night, because they own it you see. Seriously though, the print itself is pristine, and the Blu-ray disc sports some pretty deep blacks at times, and detail is at a near premium. There's also some deep color in the reds that appears on the exterior of Bobby's club and on Amada's clothes in an early scene. If there's a fault to be had in the disc it's that some scenes have a distracting amount of film grain (a tight shot of Bobby visiting the hospital is the first example I can remember), and the tighter shots don't possess the clarity that I was expecting.


Nothing but Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround for this puppy, but if so many people didn't whisper or speak in muted tones for the film, it would have come across better. On the plus side, the dialogue does stay in the center channel and there are more subtle directional effects in the film's score and the occasional action sequence. Some subwoofer activity can be detected on some of said sequences, and as a result, the track's immersion does tend to creep up on you, but the lack of a strong dialogue track was distracting.


Well, the extras are fairly paltry but they pack a little bit of an informational punch. Gray contributes a commentary that's fairly technical but quite engaging. He talks about the storyline dynamics and his method and means of filmmaking, and also discusses the work processes of Wahlberg, Phoenix and Duvall, complete with his impressions of them. He manages to talk about the Blondie inclusion, but I didn't really buy the explanation, and singles out any specific crew contributions that he sees over the course of watching the film all over again. It's one of those tracks that you can easily say is useful for the aspiring Gilroy or Scorsese in your life. "Tension: Creating We Own The Night" (15:13) is the first of three small featurettes that appear in high definition, or at least appear in MPEG-2 video. Gray talks some more about his intent for the film and other members of the crew (namely the producers) talk about their thoughts on it as well. Gray goes on to discuss the stars and how they work, and Wahlberg and Phoenix talk about it to some degree too. It also covers more on how they worked with one another and how they worked with Gray. It's your usual making-of piece as far as I'm concerned. "Police Action: Creating Cops, Cars and Chaos" (10:20) looks at the stunts in the film, specifically the car chase sequence and the shootout in the drug lab. The stunt coordinator and stunt doubles and drivers talk about how they want to accomplish the chase, and Gray discusses his thoughts on the process too, and we also see that the car chase used computer generated rain, which was a surprise. "A Moment in Crime: Creating Late '80s Brooklyn" (8:58) talks about the clothes, set design and music that the film employed, and Gray introduces yet another excuse for Blonde in a movie set in 1988, and I can accept this one (about time). Trailers for Walk Hard, 30 Days of Night and a general preview of Sony and Blu-ray completes the disc.

Final Thoughts:

We Own The Night is an interesting tale about family and their places on the right and wrong sides of the proverbial tracks, and the character transformation one of them goes through when his family becomes threatened in a tangible manner. Technically the disc is solid though not entirely spectacular, and the supplements are a refreshing look at the production and Gray's thoughts on how the screenplay came together. However, the story seems to flounder along without any real focus. Worth recommending at best, unless you really, really like any of the stars that are in it.

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