A twenty minute, unfocused lull is what We Own the Night needed to somehow avoid. Somewhere in the middle of this film comes that period in time, and it’s here when I seriously began questioning the reason I was involved at all in this story. We’ve seen it all before, it’s been done better, and there’s nothing here that’s particularly interesting. But I was previously engaged because it’s so well-paced that I didn’t care about all of that.
That’s when this portion of the film hits, and it’s lucky that it comes as late as it does. If it came earlier, some audience members might be tempted to not even bother with watching to the end, assuming they catch We Own the Night on television or something like that. This is a realization point for an audience that they’re not watching something particularly good, and there’s little reason to continue watching except for the fact that two-thirds of the film are now over and you might as well see it through. Luckily, after this lull is over, the last twenty or so minutes are quite thrilling and you’re in for a satisfying conclusion.
The plot begins pretty standard. There’s a good brother, a cop named Joe (Mark Wahlberg). He’s being honored for whatever reason, and his wife, kids, and proud father (the police chief, played by Robert Duvall) are all in attendance. Who’s missing? The other brother, Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix), and his girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes). They’re coming to a policeman party, and yet they decided to light up a joint before leaving their car. That’s not exactly the smartest idea if you ask me, but that’s the kind of people they are.
Anyway, Bobby currently runs a club owned by one Mr. Buzhayev (Moni Moshonov). The policeman party isn’t just for celebration; the cops need Bobby’s cooperation. There’s a man named Vadim (Alex Veadov) — who may or may not be a drug dealer — who visits this club fairly regularly. Bobby is required to help nab the drug dealer, but considering he’s not on good terms with the law officials, he respectfully declines their offer. Seemingly the next day, the club is raided and Bobby is arrested for possession. The target, Vadim, couldn’t be arrested.
What initially seems like a failed attempt to keep scum off the streets turns tragic when a hitman shoots Joe in the face, aiming to kill him. Joe survives, is put in a hospital, and, surprisingly considering how high tensions had been earlier in the film, this brings the family together. Just a little bit, but it’s enough to make Bobby the good guy (and the new main character), determined to make the hitman (and the group behind the attempted murder) pay for good.
Does that sound generic? Could this be more or less any crime/cop film involving an estranged family? Well, I guess it could, but for the first hour and a few minutes, I didn’t care. I was having quite a lot of fun. I was involved, I was interested in what was going on, and I even thought Eva Mendes was doing an okay job with her role. The stars must have aligned or something. But, soon enough, they fell out of alignment and I realized that I had been watching a generic crime film with little depth that had distracted me for a while.
The point when this realization occurred was after Bobby had been solo for a while. I don’t want to get into specific circumstance, but suffice to say that the plot forced him into a hole of hiding and waiting. So, we have to watch him hide and wait. And then there was a contrived fight between him and his girlfriend, and I snapped out of my state of acceptance and began to get awfully critical of We Own the Night. Eventually, the state was restored for the action-packed conclusion, but those little problems kept worming their way into the back of my mind.
Like how these characters are all essentially archetypes. How none of them have any real personality or depth. How the only surprise in the film is that the one female who actually gets a significant role is actually in it for love, and not anything else. This is an incredibly predictable film otherwise, right down to the exact way that the final action scene plays out. It’s not even that we’ve seen this type of film before; this film just doesn’t try to surprise you. Maybe that works to its advantage, as it means that the narrative is really easy to follow, but on the other hand, it makes things a little boring and doesn’t give the audience enough credit.
I did like most of the actors involved. Phoenix provides a strong lead, even if there are times when he mumbles his lines. I rarely dislike Wahlberg, although I didn’t enjoy having his character put out of commission for half the film. The contrast between the two brothers helped the earlier portions, and Bobby wasn’t a character that could effectively carry us by himself. And, of course, Robert Duvall is strong as always as the boys’ father and NYPD Chief. Mendes was the weakest link, although she’s actually better here than normal (possibly because of a mostly background role for the first half of the film).
Did I ultimately enjoy We Own the Night? I guess so. The pacing kept it engaging, even if few of the individual elements worked. When the film got slow, that’s when things went bad. It’s not like the first hour and a bit are extremely action-packed, either. It’s just that there’s enough going on to keep us interested. We don’t need random shootouts, but we do need some sort of movement. There are about twenty minutes when this comes to a halt, and you’ll reflect during this time and realize this isn’t a great film. But it is certainly watchable and contains some enjoyable, if unsurprising, moments.