In "We Own the Night", Joaquin Phoenix, whose eyes burn with sullen anger even when he's looking at the woman he loves, plays Bobby Green, a nightclub manager in the 1980s who gets caught between his blood family he tried to leave behind--a long line of police officers--and his chosen family of friends and business partners, who turn out to be drug dealers. His father (Robert Duvall) and brother (Mark Wahlberg) want Bobby to help their investigation, but Bobby resists--until the conflict takes a brutal turn. Writer/director James Gray wears his influences on his sleeve; he's clearly seen every movie that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola ever made and aspires to follow in their footsteps.
The familiarity of the movie's territory dilutes its impact, but the plot of "We Own the Night" remains unpredictable, the performances have a clean vitality, and Gray's moody visual style brings some life to the genre. Phoenix ("Walk the Line") dives into his role, sifting through layers of guilt and familial resentment; Wahlberg and Duvall play parts they've essentially played a dozen times, but do so with commitment and integrity. Also featuring Eva Mendes ("Ghost Rider") as Bobby's devoted girlfriend, who questions just how much she'll have to give up for him. --"Bret Fetzer"