Despite the “One Degree of Marky-Mark,” this film is not quite the rip-off of The Departed that it appears to be on the surface, but it’s not different enough to make it worth almost two hours of your time. The first-rate cast gives it an illusion of substance that is slightly deceptive, but great performances do not compensate for the run-of-the-mill cop story with a weak villain.
In the late eighties, Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) is a slick New York nightclub owner with a hot-to-trot Puerto Rican girlfriend (Eva Mendes) and a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward the Russian mobsters operating a drug ring out of his club. His big secret is that his brother, Joe Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg) and father, Bert (Robert Duvall) are not only both cops but leading the narcotics department charge against the Russians. Bobby’s relationship with his family is strained by his decadent lifestyle and lowlife friends, as well as his refusal to cooperate with Joe and Bert’s efforts to break up the drug ring.
That changes when the Russian kingpin, Nezhinski (Alex Veadov), puts a hit out on Joe, not knowing the cop’s relationship to the owner of the club. With his brother in the hospital, Bobby begins working with the police, despite his father’s efforts to keep him out of harm’s way. With his help, however, the police are successful in bringing charges against Nezhinski, but when he escapes and goes after Bert, Bobby takes the drastic step of joining the police force to bring the Russian down.
As I said, there is nothing wrong with the performances and the ethnic working class family dynamic between Phoenix, Wahlberg and Duvall is convincing and the strongest part of the movie. Also, Eva Mendes’ character, Amada, avoids the clichés that often plague the “girlfriend” role in movies like this. She is genuinely loyal and supportive of her man, but wounded when he takes a drastic step without talking to her.
The gritty urban setting is also richly detailed and feels authentic, so the real problem is with the character of Nezhinski, who never really seems to represent the level of threat to Bobby that we’re told he does. Certainly, he kills or tries to kill people close the club owner, but the personal antagonism between the two men never really emerges as a factor in the movie. This lack of a strong central conflict keeps the story from really taking off and making We Own the Night strong as should have been, given its roster of onscreen talent.