Saturday, 08 August 2020

Vintage police procedural thrills 'Own the Night'


The setting is 1988 Brooklyn, but the overall tone and temperament are that of a darker New York of the 1970s. “We Own the Night,” owing its title to the motto of the NYPD street crimes unit, has taken great care to come up with something exceedingly gritty and gloomy, with bad weather apparently cooperating to cast gray shadows.

There’s also a dark cloud over the Grusinsky family, where one brother has severed the familial ties to long careers in law enforcement. Initially, “We Own the Night” gives the impression that this is the story of one good brother pitted against an evil one, but it’s a more complicated scenario, which essentially explains why the undercurrents of sibling rivalry make for some brooding melodrama.

Deputy police chief Burt Grusinsky (Robert Duvall), a decorated veteran, is justifiably proud of his son Joseph (Mark Wahlberg), who is moving up the ranks of the force. Together, they are leading an effort to bust up the drug trade being run by the Russian mafia in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach.

On the trail of drug dealers, they put the El Caribe nightclub in their sights, a place managed by Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) on behalf of a Russian fur importer. It turns out that Bobby operates under his mother’s maiden name so that familial ties to his crusading brother Joseph and highly visible father Burt are concealed. Being the son of a top cop probably wouldn’t sit well with his boss, who takes a hands-off view to the presence of menacing drug-dealing thug Vadim (Alex Veadov), who uses the nightclub as his home base.

A raid on the El Caribe by Burt and Joseph causes friction with Bobby, who indulges in some recreational drugs with his friends, but otherwise steers clear of any illicit transactions and keeps a distance from the criminals frequenting his club. Flying into a rage, Vadim threatens reprisals against the cops, and soon thereafter, a masked gunman attacks Joseph outside his home, sending him to the hospital in a critical condition that requires months of recovery. The hit on his brother causes Bobby to return to the fold, and he offers to help the police in a sting operation to take down the drug ring.

Bobby’s willingness to go after the thugs results in serious complications. For one thing, he’s conflicted about adapting to the police culture, especially since he’s viewed suspiciously by some of the brass. For another, his sexy Puerto Rican girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes) is put needlessly at risk and his partying lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt, and this leads to more tension since Amada is not keen on ending up trapped in hotel rooms under the watchful eye of security details.

But trouble is brewing in even larger proportions when Vadim breaks free from confinement and must come after the perceived snitch to squelch testimony at a trial.

“We Own the Night” hardly qualifies for groundbreaking new work in the police procedural genre. The dialogue is not exactly riveting and original, while some situations appear so far-fetched as to stretch credulity to the breaking point.

Nevertheless, “We Own the Night” manages intense performances from its leading characters that keep the whole business worth watching. Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall bring the right amount of intensity to their predictable roles of upstanding police officials.

It’s Joaquin Phoenix who owns the movie, as he consistently maintains the proper note of being believably conflicted even when situations around him conspire to diminish the credibility of a formulaic police story. Phoenix’s turn may not be enough to make “We Own the Night” a memorable crime drama, but it will suffice to keep this film afloat for a reasonably diverting entertainment.


Just around the corner, on Nov. 6, MGM Entertainment is releasing the “James Bond Ultimate Collector’s Set,” a four-volume pack to include all 21 James Bond films, including the recent “Casino Royale.”

There are 42 discs in all, with one special features disc for each film. This will be the third time, in recent memory, that a complete edition of the James Bond films has been released. The only difference this time around is that all the films are sold in one package, not separate volumes.

So far, it is hard to detect any difference in the special features that may not have been available in the recent “James Bond Ultimate Edition,” which was available for purchase in four separate volumes.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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