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The Magnificent Seven in James Gray’s We Own The Night (2007) November 15, 2007

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
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Written and directed by James Gray
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes

Jessica Zafra calls it “terrific.” Then she asks further: Why do most of today’s good movies look like they were made thirty years ago? Did American cinema peak in the 1970s? Fellow blogger Oggs Cruz hands down his praises and proclaims it “tremendous,” “a brilliant piece of work, ” and “probably one of the year’s best.” Noel Vera believes it’s “better than The Godfather.” It has been a long time since I last saw a Hollywood film in cinema and enjoyed it at the same time. Convinced, I rushed to see it – alone and lowly – and came to realize the enormity of superlatives that this film is getting. Without any hint of disappointment, James Gray’s We Own The Night is fantastic – it is cooked medium-rare and somehow I can sense a chunk of genius at work, a modest film whose virtues can easily be ignored, and though I am not as ecstatic as Oggs and Jessica and Noel, I believe this film is damn good.

There is something in We Own The Night that reminds me of Mystic River and The Departed. Most likely the theme of crime and violence and the way it is advertised in posters – but it lacks the sinister look of Eastwood’s film and the in-your-face smash of Scorsese’s adaptation. It lies somewhere else in between. The narrative is a rehash of a story so familiar one can trace its roots way, way back before Jesus Christ was born, crucified, went back to heaven, and enjoyed his stay there hardly thinking whether he should come back again for good. Gray unfolds his story unceremoniously – in such a way that it looks very close to our senses and at the back of our minds a voice keeps saying, I know this, I know this, I’ve seen this already, but we don’t know where and when because it’s right there in front of our eyes.

I must admit I did not understand more than half of the dialogues, not to mention the whispers and mumblings, but I believe the gestures are worthy enough for them to be forgiven. Getting used to subtitled films might be impairing my ears but on the other hand, they are also honing my grammar and independent clauses, with thousands of words having a marathon to reach my fingertips even before I start-up my computer. So what will I choose?

Joaquin Phoenix is frigging brilliant and cool – he is perhaps one of the best guys now in Holy Wood. His acting is never restrained but he keeps track of it very well. For he is not particularly handsome but he knows how to use his cunning charm to his advantage. Furthermore, he has this rare talent of unleashing his rage, a layer of anguish and pain, silently. Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall are okay – they ain’t mess around like thugs. Eva Mendes is scorching, she’s so hot you can see fogs of smoke emanating from her – grilled fresh from the oven – and good thing she screams undisturbingly.

I like the straightforward approach, as it is rarely seen these days in cinema, and certainly the hardest way to tell the story is to tell it straight. But there must be something strange in this approach that I feel indifferent – and I sympathise to those who believe that it could have been more. Well let’s not delve on that. By the way, watch out for the show-stopper – the heart-wrenching, breathtaking car chase. For your safety, get your fucking heads out of the way, ’cause they just might blow off. * * *

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