We Own The Night (2007)

(In theaters, November 2007) The setup is familiar but interesting: A man flirting with the wrong side of the law is asked to do the Right Thing for once. Joaquin Phoenix is up to his usual high standards as the man torn between his shady ambitions and his squeaky-clean family, but the film refuses to follow the usual plot-line: surprises keep coming and the film twists itself in unusual shapes, even allowing itself a terrific car chase as the turning point for the third act. The result is a bit too goody-goody to be entirely credible, and the languid shot-to-shot pacing of the film clashes with the speed at which the bigger plot evolves, but We Own The Night also owns your attention throughout. There are a few neat touches here and there, including showy sound editing (as would befit real-life gun battles) and a radiant Eva Mendes. The rest of the cast is respectable, but doesn’t really do much to fill the roles with something that would bring this film to the level it would deserve. The lacklustre ending, poised between arty slow motion and a drawn-out unsatisfactory climax, seems to exemplify a number of the film’s fault. The contrivances pile up, and if the final result isn’t anything to mock, it’s not quite as important as it seems to believe. Finally, am I the only one to picture this film in the 1970s despite the stated 1988-1989 time-frame? The script does little with its time and place… and suffers from any comparison with The Departed.

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