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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007)

James Gray’s sophomore outing continues his stylistic ode to Francis Coppola & Sidney Lumet, as seen in his debut pic, THE YARD/’00. This time, a leaner story line makes a better fit for a 2-hr pic, but the well worn narrative tracks of Brooklyn cops working to shut down a lethal gang of Russian drug lords misses the originality of the earlier film. James Caan was ‘borrowed’ from THE GODFATHER as THE YARD’s troubled father-figure, here THE GODFATHER’s Robert Duvall makes an unlikely dad to Mark Wahlburg & Joaquin Phoenix, who themselves make unlikely brothers. (They were best pals in THE YARD; the gimmick this time posits Phoenix, in hammy mode, as a nightclub manager from a family of cops who finds himself with conflicting filial & financial ties.) Gray works so hard at making an honest film and getting the details right, you want to respond positively, but he has little of Coppola’s compositional poetry & even less of Lumet’s on-the-wing spontaneity. Worse, he gloms the Coppola pomposity & Lumet’s careless casting. As a megger, Gray seems to have learned everything by rote. He needs to start walking on his own.

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