4.5* A throwback to the gritty ‘70s cinema of Friedken and Cimino. It’s brutal, unflinching, muscular, and poetic. I just hope that one day a group of emerging critics looks at Gray the same way Truffaut and co. looked at Hawks and Hitchcock. Full review: https://letterboxd.com/fifeco/film/we-own-the-night/1/
The first act has that same epic sweep of the mundane as the wedding that opens The Deer Hunter. The rest mixes Coppola's allegorical, melodramatic treatment of family (albeit on a smaller, more nuanced scale) with William Friedkin's morally confrontational approach to violence. Gray doesn't film action scenes so much as reaction scenes, drawing mood from the response, not the build-up. Masterful.
"We Own the Night" is the one post-millennial film I can think of that feels like the kind of crime movie William Friedkin or Michael Cimino could have made during the late 70's. And for that reason I think it deserves to be cherished, even if the screenplay didn't completely sell me on Joaquin Phoenix's transition from sleazy, drug-addled nightclub owner to repentent hero.
No one makes action sequences as moral as James Gray. As in The Yards' hospital scene, this film's set pieces evoke empathy rather than detached suspense, privileging emotion over the fetishising of physical reality. Vicious POVs ground us in hellish isolation while the objective shots deny any succinct sense of space. The car chase is chaotic to the point of producing a serene helplessness I've never felt before.
I like the way James Gray patiently builds his imaginary world through his films. He deliberately chooses family circles as an ideal place for tragedy to appear. Here, in We Own The Night, we have two families, two brothers and two fathers. And we have Robert Grusinsky, who changed his name to Bobby Green, desperately trying to find the right place and the right circle. Masterpiece.
A sensatonally staged, rain-drenched car chase notwithstanding, We Own The Night is an utter mess of a film. Lacking real tension, the film suffers at the hands of Gray's pointless script, Phoenix's dribbling mess of a performance and a real waste of some talent in smaller roles. When a film makes even one of the greats in Duvall look ordinary you know something is wrong. Tedious and utterly disappointing.
Cop films bore me - even the so-called classics. And "We Own The Night" does nothing to change that. It does, however, have a phenomenal opening: Phoenix fingering Mendes to one of the best songs of the 70s, Heart Of Glass. You can't beat an opening like that, that's a bold way to start your film. The car chase scene in the rain stands out as well...