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We Own the Night (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/12/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/7/2008

Family can often be the most important thing in one's life. They nurture us and provide support and comfort. However, family can also be the source of a great deal of tension. While our family can be a terrific source of inspiration to us, they can also bring forth a great deal of shame and judgment. These issues play out in the film We Own the Night. The movie focuses on crime and police work, but at its core, it's all about family.

We Own the Night is set in Brooklyn in 1988. Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) is on top of the world. He's the manager of the hottest nightclub in the area, and his boss, Mr. Buzhayez (Moni Moshonov), is considering Bobby's idea to open a new club in Manhattan. Bobby is dating Amada (Eva Mendes), and they are very happy together. The only problem is that Bobby's real last name is Grusinsky and that his father, Bert (Robert Duvall), is a Deputy Chief of Police and his brother, Joe (Mark Wahlberg) is a police captain. Due to the fact that criminal activity is known to happen at the club, Bobby changed his name. Bobby is approached by his father, who asks for help in nabbing a Russian drug smuggler named Nezhinski (Alex Veadov), who is Mr. Buzhayez's nephew and is known to operate out of Bobby's club. Bobby declines, stating that he doesn't want to get into the middle of anything. When the police go after Nezhinski anyway, the Russians retaliate by attacking the Grusinski's. Bobby is now torn between two worlds. He loves the lifestyle and success of the club, but he doesn't want to turn his back on his family when they are in danger. He must decide which is more important.

I can't say that I've ever seen a movie with the exact same plot as We Own the Night, but none of the movie felt very fresh. The nightclub, the criminals, Bobby, Amada, the police -- I felt as if I'd seen it all before (and I honestly don't watch that many crime movies). Once the basic premise was in place, the bulk of the movie was quite predictable. On top of that, the characters all felt like stereotypes, especially the Russian criminals.

But, perhaps it wasn't originality that writer/director James Gray was going for. The movie is meant to be a study of a time when New York City was much more dangerous than it is now. Seen as a period piece, the film works as it examines the way in which crime evolved in the 1980s and the ways in which law enforcement were forced to fight back.

However, all of that takes a back seat to Bobby's story. While the movie has criminals and police, it is essentially the story of a young man who is trying to find his way in the world. Bobby has always lived under the scrutiny of his father and the shadow of his big brother, and he's finally found his place in the world. He tells himself that he can live with the fact that Bert and Joe don't approve of his lifestyle, but we never fully believe it. When his family is placed in harm's way, Bobby's life is thrown into turmoil. Here are two people from whom he's fought to pull away, and suddenly they need him. With all of the various characters in the film, most of the emphasis is placed on Bobby, and Phoenix is in most every scene. This creates an issue for the audience, as Phoenix plays his role a bit too close to the vest. While Bobby is somewhat gregarious at first, once the turmoil starts, he becomes very stoic. This lack of emotion makes it difficult to connect with Bobby. (And whereas Phoenix is all over this movie, Mark Wahlberg's character is sorely underwritten and he just comes and goes throughout the film.)

We Own the Night is an interesting film, as James Gray has taken an action-oriented genre and attempted to make it more about the characters. Ironically, the best scene in the film is an action scene. There is a car chase which is shot mostly from the passenger's point-of-view and it's incredibly suspenseful. Otherwise, the movie is familiar, predictable, and somewhat slow. Despite some well-known actors giving decent performances, We Own the Night falls flat. They may own the night, but you won't want to own this film -- stick with a rental.

We Own the Night awaits sunrise on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the disc holds a AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. Despite the fact that this is a dark movie, the image looks good. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The image is quite "crisp" and shows a great deal of detail. It's not until the finale that we get a truly nice exterior shot, but there, we can see that the image does carry a nice depth. The Disc has a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and averages 3.7 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. The stereo effects are very good and highly detailed. The period music in the movie sounds great. The crowd scenes at the club create a nice aura of surround sound, and the track really comes to life during the car chase.

The We Own the Night Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of bonus features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director James Gray. Here, Gray gives us a lot of behind-the-scenes details on the film, commenting on the actors, locations, the look of the film, and the story. "Tension: Creating We Own the Night" (15 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers comments from the cast and filmmakers. Director James Gray discusses his ideas for the film and the approach which he took. The actors discuss their roles, their performances, and their impressions of Gray. In "Police Action: Filming Cops, Cars, and Chaos" (10 minutes) Gray discusses his approach to the car chase scene in the film. There are also comments from stunt coordinator Manny Siverio. We then get a look at how the scene was shot. There are also details about a gunfight in the film. "A Moment in Crime: Creating Late 80's Brooklyn" (9 minutes) examines the work which went into re-creating 1988 New York City, through costuming and set design.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long