**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Robert Duvall
written and directed by James Gray
by Walter Chaw A cop is gunned down on the street in front of his own house, prompting his brother to don a uniform and hunt down the dirty foreign dog who did it in a field of smoke and grass. To accomplish this, he has to betray one father for the legacy of another and take sides in a war with no possible resolution. If American Gangster is the finest American New Wave cop procedural since The French Connection/Prince of the City/Serpico, James Gray's We Own the Night is a revenge flick mired in Reagan-era morality (even the baddies are Russian) that assumes Dirty Harry's squinty-eyed psychopathic zeal, setting itself explicitly in 1988 New York while consoling itself with a cozy middlebrow outcome. What's doleful about the picture to me is that, philosophically, it suggests a certain reductive fatalism about masculinity-as-destiny in all this Sturm und Drang concerning vengeance, honour, and the thickness of blood. Yet it's not about ripping up social contracts to better heed the insect-like call to violent response, or restructuring society along bestial lines--rather, it's about sucking succour from the vein of traditional ideas of justice and law. At another time, perhaps, this State of Grace brand of serio-mythic gravitas would ring with a clearer tone (like, say, during the Eighties in which it's set)--but as a 2007 release, We Own the Night is dangerously, pretentiously, wilfully naïve. The pitfall of using weathered genre conventions as a springboard is that although it will occasionally lead to things like Jules Dassin's Night and the City and the French New Wave, it more often leads to things that don't understand they're only good when they're reinventing the wheel and not just peddling around it pathetically (à la Romeo Is Bleeding or We Own the Night) like some leashed circus bear.