‘We Own the Night’ is a no-frill take on gangster violence

March 16th, 2008 - 3:27 pm ICT by admin  

By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “We Own The Night”; Cast: Jaoquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes; Direction: James Gray; Rating: ** 1/2 It is more than a coincidence that this smouldering crime caper’s director James Gray resembles our own Shimit Amin, the director of the movie “Chak De! India”. Before Shimit got seriously sporty in “Chak De! India”, he made a dark brooding gangster drama, “Ab Tak Chappan”.

Often while entering Gray’s badlands, we’re reminded of the long and chequered history of the crime genre. In “We Own The Night”, the genre comes home in a manner of speaking. It is the most straight off unpretentious and unburdened take on the glorious cult of gangster violence that we’ve seen emerge from Hollywood or Bollywood in recent times.

Neither the editing nor the cinematography suggests novelty. This ode to high- class hooliganism plays it straight. There’s no attempt to cover up the hoary material in a renewable recycled gloss.

The sets depicting crime-infested Brooklyn in the 1980s are far more real and vibrant than the recent “American Gangster”, where Russel Crowe’s hair styling was more interesting than the film’s over-all styling.

In “We Own the Night”, the plot characters and ambience come together to assail our senses in a banquet of brilliantly staged brutality. The shoot-outs are stylish and electrifying as they were always meant to be, without getting gut-wrenchingly real. The love scenes steam over with sensuality.

Every time the bad-son Joaquin Pheonix is with his Puerto Rican girlfriend (Eva Mendes) something happens to the screen. I’ve never seen this kind of chemistry (more a chemist’s delight than any mystery) in any film since Michael Douglas and Glenn Close steamed it up in “Fatal Attraction”.

Phoenix as the wayward son is the life and death of this crime fest. He is pitched against good son Mark Wahlberg, who is a cop like his father (Robert Duvall). His two sons don’t war over their mother. They’ve more practical and immediate matters to take care of.

Like Shashi Kapoor in Yash Chopra’s “Deewaar”, Wahlberg has a thankless part to serve. Goodness went out of fashion with Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Bad boys and girls have all the fun. This film makes a life of crime look attractive without making the hazards look like an unfortunate offshoot of an enormously glamorous endeavour.

You know these guys from both sides of the law can get snuffed out at any time. The risk pales before the smouldering flamboyance of a life lived on the edge. The high-octane tension emerges from the hip of the narrative to create a fine suspenseful spine for the plot’s backbone.

“We Own The Night” is your near-perfect morality tale. It tells us that the price for high life is higher than that snort of cocaine that transports you instantly to a makeshift paradise.

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