We Own the Night was produced by its two stars Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix. This is a sign that they either wanted to be in a movie together or they want to take their careers firmly into their own hands, or perhaps they believed so strongly in the project that they stood behind James Gray, the writer/director. In any case, after seeing this film, I feel they should no longer be allowed to make choices concerning their careers. While, yes, being belligerently bad, I won’t go so far as saying it’s the worst movie of the year, but it certainly comes off as the most incompetent.
It’s the type of movie in which you can imagine the script italicizing certain actions for dramatic effect…”He walks past, leaving the note untouched…unread, and closes the door as he disappears into the next room.” Oh, the drama! This is an actual scene in the movie and this feels how it was directed, and performed.
We begin at the story’s humble opening (before it becomes a complete mess) in New York City of the 80’s when the police force took on the slogan “We Own the Night” as a dogma to empower their efforts in making the night safe again from drug dealers, etc. A certain party animal Bobby Green, with a glassy stone-eyed look and forced giggle Joaquin Phoenix believes are character choices, is a manager at a swinging night club where Russian drug dealers roam free. But what’s Bobby Green doing taking his sexy girlfriend Amanda Juarez, who as played by Eva Mendes is directed to be a smart sexy woman one second and a whiny little girl the next – whatever fits the story – to a policeman’s gathering? Well his brother Joseph Grusinsky, Mark Wahlberg doing nothing really, is being promoted upward within the ranks of the NYC drug task force, right underneath their pops Burt Grusinsky, Robert Duvall, who is able to take all of the bad dialogue and make it sound like his character is just an old dopey cop. But wait, isn’t Joaquin’s name Bobby Green? So how can they be related? Ah, well, Bobby has taken on his mother’s name so that no one in his work environment knows he’s related to cops…can you smell the plot twists?
They ask him to “observe” on a dastardly drug dealing villain who frequents Bobby’s night club. They actually drag him upstairs and corner him in the sanctuary of a Church, which is the most random and useless setting in the film…oh, wait, I lied, there are others…like a field of golden straw like reeds behind a dilapidated warehouse next to a river at an equestrian ranch…yeah, that’s a location in the film. But, whaaaat? Bobby doesn’t want to inform. He’ll soon change his mind when a number of cliches so hostile and contrivances so obvious decide to attack the audience. It’s the stupidity of the script that after things go horribly wrong his family apologizes to him for getting him involved in the whole thing, “The last thing I wanted was to get you involved,” but they seem to have forgotten that’s what they set out to get him to do in the sanctuary of the church in the first place.
My God, but that’s only one stupidity of a thousand stupidities. Take for instance a scene in which Bobby is under cover at a drug house wearing a wire in his lighter. Bobby is getting nervous and it shows. The Russian baddie has him empty his pockets. The Russian looks over his things carefully. Hm, Bobby has matches and a lighter? Why would anyone carry matches and a lighter on them? It’s unheard of to this Russian villain, so he, of course, opens up the lighter and finds the mic, but not before Bobby has said the special word to get the cops to come in early. They burst in, firing at everybody in sight, even Bobby! So, Bobby throws himself out a window from the third floor, and lands back first on a metal link fence. If this sequence had been made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park it might have been brilliant… now you understand perhaps how bad it all is.
So bad it feels like the dialogue was written by a fifth grader. The visual story elements are so heavy handed that even when the occasionally gorgeous cinematography kicks in, the James Gray ruins it. As it’s obviously raining, Bobby Green cranes his head around in the back seat of a limo and proclaims, “It’s really coming down hard.” … Gee thanks, I might have missed the rain falling if he hadn’t brought it up.
I guess if you’re looking for a good laugh it’s the best worst since Battlefield Earth…