We Own the Night

At the Cannes Festival sometimes things can turn violent between journalists. Or at least that’s what I feared upon exiting the Debussy theatre this past May after a press screening of James Gray’s We Own the Night, which has its commercial release later this October. The film got copiously booed as end credits rolled–in my opinion because of its formulaic zeal, when you see the final scene, you’ll understand–and I partook in the booing. After all, what’s a festival if not for the prerogative to holler out your views loud and clear?

Later, I ran into a colleague from France on the press-room balcony and asked him his thoughts on the film. He was enthralled by the film’s epic turns and dark morality. I looked back at him quizzically, saying, “You’re joking, right? Wasn’t that you in there, booing with everyone else? Sandy Gilet from ecranlarge.com joined in, incensed at me and the booers for dismissing the film’s strength. I was stunned: here were two French journalists who were rooting for the monolithic American formula of loyalty + honor and ganged up on me. The funny thing is, Night is an eminently watchable film, if you like another Greek tragedy. The rituals of the bad-son-who-comes-home-to-save-the-day narrative are so polished, they could make you purr.

Bobby Green (Joachim Phoenix) and Joseph Gruzinsky (Mark Wahlberg) come from a Polish-American family of cops. Differences between them soon become apparent: Bobby manages a nightclub owned by the Russian mob’s don dada while Joseph is fast going up in rank at the precinct. There’s machoism, reluctance and street-bound intrigue. Sounds familiar? Yes, to me, too. So, that the storyline is prosaic in the same way that the hackneyed thugs in a Scorsese movie are should come as no surprise. And yet, a mild sense of relief is felt at seeing them spring back to life, like a rerun from our childhood days come back to lull us one more time. We Own The Night will pull you in: in here the stakes are apparently high. Unfortunately, however, the melodrama can sometimes be stifling, especially when based so closely on the familiar. And yet, the film should likely fare well at the b.o. thanks to its widely appealing scenario and tightly run pace.