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We Own the Night

Queens-born director James Gray reunites YARDS stars Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg for a return to New York City's outer boroughs in this earnestly acted, typically dour but dully formulaic crime drama. New York City, 1988. Joe Grusinsky (Wahlberg) and his brother Bobby (Phoenix) aren't exactly on opposite sides of the law, but they don't quite see eye-to-eye, either. Joe, like his widower police-chief father Burt (Robert Duvall), is a tough Queens borough cop dedicated to making the crime-ridden streets of his fair city safe once again for families like his own. Bobby, on the other hand, feels no such commitment to his community and wants nothing to do with his brother or his father; Bobby even uses his mother's maiden name, "Green," and won't answer the phone if he thinks Joe is on the other end. Bobby has worked his way up through the ranks and is now the manager of the lavishly decadent Brooklyn nightclub El Caribe, where his girlfriend, Amanda Juarez (Eva Mendes), works as a hostess, and he's found a new family under the club’s wealthy owner, the kindly Russian emigre Marat Bujayev (Moni Moshonov). But El Caribe has recently become the favorite hangout of Bujayev’s nephew, Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov), a ruthless drug importer who’s been flooding the streets with crank and, worse, killing cops. Joe and his father are determined to take Vadim's whole operation down, but for them to succeed, Bobby will finally have to decide to which family he really belongs. Encouraged by a studio exec to make a "cop movie with a car chase" — just the kind of crime film Gray determinedly had not been making — Gray delivered on at least half the proposition: At the heart of his third feature is a high-tension pursuit through a blinding rainstorm that ends in a terrifying shotgun blast. But as a cop movie, it's strictly by the book, and hinges on two worn-out genre observations: Crime syndicates can serve as surrogate families for alienated characters, and there comes a time in every man's life, even a criminal's, when he must step up and take responsibility for the world he's helped create. Phoenix gives a nice performance as a man caught between loyalties but blind to the realities all around him, but Gray's screenplay is filled with clunky, Dr. Phil-sounding aphorisms that stop the movie cold. Not even an actor as good as Robert Duvall can convincingly pull off a line like "You don't marry an ape and worry about the stench of bananas." Ah, such wisdom.