Friday, October 12, 2007

We Own the Night

Studio execs love to take a film and change it in some way to make a different film which can play to the same audiences. Die Hard is a classic example as studios rushed to make Die Hard on a boat (Under Siege), Die Hard on a plane (Passenger 57, Con Air, Executive Decision), Die Hard on a train (Under Siege 2: Dark Territory) and many others.

The only other thing execs love more (than easy sequel or adaptations) is to combine two different films. Now I don’t know for sure that this is how this film came about but I think it went something like this… “Hey, I got a great idea for a movie. It came to me as I was watching The Departed” “I don’t know, I mean Scorsese just did that.” “No man listen to this. When I finished the movie and popped out the DVD I turned the cable on and there was that Studio 54 flick with Austin Powers.” “Yeah?” “We combine the two films!” “That’s a great idea!” “Yeah, we can even cast some of the stars of The Departed.” “Not Nicholson, he’s way too expensive. Hmm, what about Marky-Mark?”

The film’s story centers around nightclub manager Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) whose lifestyle is at odds with his father (Robert Duvall) and brother (Mark Wahlberg) who are hard-nosed NY cops. When his brother is put in charge of a taskforce to clean up the drugs in the city Bobby is forced to examine his life and choose between his family and his friends and business partners.

What you expect is what you get. Phoenix acts moody, crazy, and looks like he needs a good night sleep. Wahlberg is a tough and stand-up guy (sadly without the humor of his Departed character), Duvall is the hardboiled but loving father, and Eva Mendes is the girlfriend (or more accurate - the whining eye-candy).

The story is good though not great and the incident that forces Bobby to help his father and brother is well executed (although I would have liked to have seen more time spent on the fallout). The film also includes several sequences which are both engaging and compelling including a most memorable car chase and a tour and an escape from a drug house.

Although the film has several moments which work these are separated by stretches of monotony and boredom that may put some audience members to sleep. Also troubling is an early giveaway to a plot twist which takes place late in the film and filler scenes from the nightclub which add liitle, besides running time, to the overall story. There are also some huge logic holes and one-dimensional thinking. For example, in one scene the cops trap a criminal in a field. They line-up and set it on fire. The problem? All the cops line-up on one side of the field not even considering the bad guy just might possibly get away by running out the other end.

Also an issue is the time frame of the film. Although 1988 is the stated year of the events some parts of the film look far more at home in the 70’s (and even sometimes late 60’s). Sometimes movies to a tremendous job with period pieces and sometimes they don’t. What is so odd about this is there is no reason the film couldn’t have worked just as well in the present day (or even better without little inconsistencies in look and style).

There are going to be people who no doubt love this movie, but as I watched (and long after) I was reminded of many other movies in this genre which I would rather be watching (and gangster cinema is far from my favorite genre). Still, it’s a good film that will entertain you at times with some style, but be prepared for some insomnia-curing lags which you may need someone next to you to keep you awake.

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