We Own the Night


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"We own the night" was the motto and rallying cry for the New York Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit, described in this New York Times article as an elite and specialized plainclothes squad which existed between 1971 and 2002 and operated almost exclusively at night in high-crime neighborhoods. I tried to own the night when I lived in New York at that time, but my accountant told me that the night was temporary, inevitably to be followed by day, and therefore should be leased.

At any rate, this film is not a historical scenario involving that particular NYPD squad, but is more of an "inspired by" treatment. It takes place in New York and borrows the motto, but those details are about the only connection to reality.

Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, and Robert Duvall play a family of three New Yorkers who get involved on both sides of the drug wars. Duvall plays a police chief and Wahlberg, playing Duvall's son, is a fast-rising captain in the force. Phoenix plays Duvall's other son, a fast-living club manager who is the family's black sheep and has changed his name from the family's Polish "Grusinski" to the sterile "Green." Matters come to a head when Wahlberg's unit raids Phoenix's club and arrests some Russian dope dealers. In retaliation, the Russians nearly succeed in killing Wahlberg. Phoenix's public outrage on the night of the raid draws the attention of some violent Russian mobsters who think he might make a good ally. Unaware of Phoenix's fraternal connection to the man he just ordered a hit on, one of the most fearsome baddies confesses to him that he had Wahlberg taken out and will take out Duvall next. Phoenix keeps his counsel and reports the conversation to his father. The next logical step is for Phoenix to agree to work undercover for the police, since he already has an "in" with the mob. The crux of the story is the struggle of the three Grusinskis to infiltrate and take down the Russian mob. You can find a detailed (spoiler) summary on the Wikipedia entry for We_Own_the_Night.

The best thing about the film in general is that it toys with the audience's sympathies. In the first twenty minutes or so, the two brothers seem equally unsympathetic. They don't seem to like one another, and we don't take sides because we don't like either of them. As the film progresses, however, both of them are allowed to show unexpected elements in their personalities, and unexpected depth, so that the audience comes to respect them both, and to see that good men need not be idealized to exhibit their merit.

The best specific thing about the film is that it contains three good action sequences: a terrifying shoot-out as part of a multi-car chase scene in a heavy rain, a scene where Phoenix is undercover in a drug den and the baddies find his wire, and a long set piece in which the police and druggies battle in the midst of smoke and dense wild grass which grows several feet above their heads.

The film's weaknesses are

(a) It takes too long to develop. The first time I tried to watch it, I was so bored after ten minutes that I gave up. The opening scenes are not only uninvolving, but also totally lacking in energy, partially because all three of the lead actors chose to play their roles as soft-spoken guys who play their cards close to the chest. Compared to the beginning of this film, there is more life in The McLaughlin Group. Not to mention more sympathetic characters.

(b) It is utterly predictable. If you can't figure out in about five minutes that the lovable and dignified old grandpa who owns the club is actually the mastermind behind the Russian mob, then you have probably never seen any other movies about that or any other mob! Of course Eastern Promises used the same shopworn device, but it had a different purpose in that film, where the kindly old gent's connection to the mob was supposed to be obvious to the audience in order to demonstrate the naiveté of the nurse, who did not suspect it. Eastern Promises kept its secrets in another drawer. In We Own the Night, however, it seems that the screenwriter thinks he's keeping that connection as a hole card when it is actually evident to anyone who's ever seen a movie. That same point could be made about Phoenix's lovable doofus friend, Jumbo. You just know that he has to have secrets, and it's not difficult to guess what those might be.

(c) Is there anyone who watched this and did not realize that Phoenix, the party boy non-cop, would eventually become the real hero cop? Much too Hollywood. On the other hand, that predictable outcome was partially redeemed by two other things: (1) straight-arrow Wahlberg turned out to freeze up in combat, which was a good development and surprised me; (2) Phoenix's integrity and heroism cost him the love of his life, so there was no phony-baloney happy ending to the love story.

It isn't a great crime story because audience interest sags from time to time, and it isn't a great dramatic film because it lacks any deeper point beneath the surface narrative. While greatness eluded it, I found it to be a reasonable investment of my time and energy. The characters have some complexity, there are a couple of unexpected developments, and there are several nail-biting action scenes.


* widescreen anamorphic

* Commentary with Writer and Director James Gray

* Police Action: Filming Cops, Cars, and Chaos

* A Moment In Crime: Creating Late 80's Brooklyn


It was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography.

3 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
3 BBC  (of 5 stars)
56 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
59 Metacritic.com (of 100)





7.4 IMDB summary (of 10)
B- Yahoo Movies





Box Office Mojo. It grossed $28 million in a maximum of 2402 theaters. It opened in the #3 slot and beat two Oscar nominees, Michael Clayton and Elizabeth, which opened the same week.





  • Eva Mendes shows one nipple in an early scene.
  • Two rowdy unidentified patrons of Phoenix's nightclub dance topless in an elevated area.

Web www.scoopy.com

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Solid movie.