Saturday, December 09, 2017
We Own the Night
Written and directed by James Gray, We Own the Night is the story of a club manager who finds himself in trouble following a raid where his boss decides to target both his father and brother who are cops. The film is an exploration of a man trying to live his own life as he contends with the drawbacks of his lifestyle and how it would affect his family. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, and Robert Duvall. We Own the Night is a gripping and evocative film from James Gray.
Set in the late 1980s in New York City, the film revolves a nightclub manager who works for the Russian mob as a raid led by his brother lead to trouble where he learns about a drug deal that has gotten dangerous forcing him to turn to his family. It’s a film that is not just about loyalty but also a study of a man caught between two different worlds where he is already in the world of running a club with drugs and seedy businesses while his father and older brother are cops. James Gray’s screenplay follows Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) who spends much of his time running a nightclub in New York City while being with his Puerto Rican girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes) and their friend Jumbo (Danny Hoch). Bobby works for the Russian mob leader Marat Buzhayev (Moni Moshonov) who owns the club as a legit way of making business though he allows his nephew Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov) to make deals as he is about to make a huge drug deal that would change things. The news gets the attention of Bobby’s older brother Captain Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg) who would lead a raid that doesn’t go anywhere but only furthers the tension between him and Bobby.
When Joseph is gunned down and in a critical state following a hit, Bobby finds himself torn between his loyalty to the mob as well as his love for his brother and father in Chief Albert Grusinsky (Robert Duvall) as the latter wants to protect him. When Bobby is asked to see what Vadim is up to by some of his father’s fellow officers, Bobby reluctantly agrees as a way to make amends with his brother but he eventually realizes that he isn’t safe once Vadim learns who he’s related to. Amada would be in danger as she copes with having to give up a lifestyle that she’s used to as well as be disconnected from her own family which would eventually cause tension with her and Bobby. Notably in the third act where Bobby makes a decision that is more about doing what is right for everyone and himself rather than return to a life that is filled with too much trouble.
Gray’s direction definitely bear elements of style in terms of some of the compositions while he would also create a period in time when New York City was still dangerous but had risen from the ashes of its dreary period of the late 70s thanks in part to its then-mayor in Ed Koch who appears in the film as himself. Shot on location in New York City, the film does play like a look back in time when the city was thriving but also had this air of unease where it’s the police that is trying to bring order back as the film’s title comes from a tag from one of chevrons on the police uniforms. Much of the film is set in the night with Gray focusing on that world though there are substantial scenes set in the daytime as it play into the world that Bobby lives in where he gambles or parties with Amada. It’s something different to what Joseph does where he splits his time doing his work with the police and being with his own family. Gray would shoot some wide shots of some of the locations though he would avoid certain landmarks of the city to maintain this element of the street and areas that involve people of Russian descent.
The direction would also have these intense moments such as a chase scene in the rain where Bobby and Amada are in a car where they’re being attacked with Bobby’s father trying to stop the attackers as it’s a key moment that would lead to the third act. It would play into what Bobby needed to do as Gray’s usage of close-up and medium shots play into the drama as well as how he deals with near-moments of tragedy and other things that add to Bobby’s development to help his family. Even as he has to deal with the other people who were like family to him as he is aware that everything he had done for them is meaningless. The film’s climax which is set in a bed of reeds is definitely one of the most chilling moments in the film as it play into the sense of the unknown and what a man will do to make things right. Overall, Gray creates a thrilling and compelling film about a nightclub manager turning straight when the mob he works for goes after his family.
Cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asay does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it has some distinctive looks into the way the scenes at the club as well as some exterior scenes at night are light while it emphasizes on something low-key for some of the daytime scenes as well the mood for the car chase scene in the rain. Editor John Axelrad does excellent work with the editing as it has elements of style as it relates to the action and suspense while being more straightforward in its approach to the drama. Production designer Ford Wheeler, with set decorator Catherine Davis and art director James C. Feng, does amazing work with the look of the nightclub that Bobby manages as well as the look of some of the homes of the characters in the film. Costume designer Michael Clancy does fantastic work with the costumes as it has elements of style in what Bobby and Amada wear to the clubs as well as the look of the police uniforms.
Visual effects supervisors Iva Petkova, Kelly Port, and Mike Uguccioni do nice work with the visual effects as it is mainly set dressing for a few spots including a shot where the World Trade Center buildings are seen through a window. Sound designer Douglas Murray does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the nightclub as well as some of the intense moments of violence including the film’s climax. The film’s music by Wojciech Kilar is wonderful for its usage of low-key string arrangements to play into the drama and suspense while music supervisor Dana Sano provides a cool soundtrack that features a lot of the music of the late 70s/early 80s from Blondie, the Clash, David Bowie, the Specials, Louis Prima, Tito Puente, and a mixture of traditional Russian music and jazz.
The casting by Douglas Aibel is marvelous as it feature notable small roles and appearances from former New York City mayor Ed Koch as himself, Maggie Kiley as Joseph’s wife, Latin artist Coati Mundi as himself at a club performance, Yelena Solovey as Buzhayev’s wife Kalina, Tony Musante as Captain Jack Shaprio who is an old friend of Albert, Antoni Corone as another friend of Albert in Lt. Solo, and Moni Moshonov in a terrific small role as the mob leader Marat Buzhayev as a man who treated Bobby like a son despite his dealings. Danny Hoch is superb as Bobby’s best friend Jumbo as a guy who helps run the nightclub as well as party with him while not knowing anything that is happening to Bobby or his family. Alex Veadov is fantastic as Vadim Nezhinski as Buzhayev’s nephew who is also a ruthless drug dealer that is willing to make sure things go right and kill anyone who gets in his way.
Eva Mendes is excellent as Amada as Bobby’s girlfriend who is happy in the lifestyle that she and Bobby live until Bobby gets into danger where she gets a closer look into the dark aspects of the lifestyle where Mendes really shows her frustration and sadness over Bobby’s eventual decision with his life. Robert Duvall is brilliant as Chief Albert Grusinsky as Bobby’s father who is aware of the lifestyle of his son as he hopes Bobby would get into the straight-and-narrow where he learns the kind of trouble he’s in as he does what any father would do which is to protect him.
Mark Wahlberg is amazing as Captain Joseph Grusinsky as Bobby’s older brother who is this hard-ass that is trying to do what is right for the law despite getting into fights with his brother where he learns how deep into trouble his brother is following his own recovery from a hit as he does whatever he can to help him. Finally, there’s Joaquin Phoenix in an incredible performance as Robert “Bobby” Grusinski/Bobby Green as a nightclub manager trying to live his own life until he learns of a drug deal that would get him into trouble after his brother was nearly killed as Phoenix’s performance is one of anguish and determination that includes the film’s climax.
We Own the Night is a phenomenal film from James Gray. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous cinematography, a riveting story, and a thrilling soundtrack, it’s a crime-drama that explore the idea of loyalty and a man being torn between his love for his family and the people who are part of the dark and seedy world of crime. In the end, We Own the Night is a sensational film from James Gray.
James Gray Films: Little Odessa - The Yards - Two Lovers – The Immigrant (2013 film) - The Lost City of Z – Ad Astra - The Auteurs #57: James Gray
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