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We Own the Night

Sony Pictures

Review in a Hurry:  This moody antithriller racks up big debts to old-school cop movies such as Serpico and The French Connection but never quite pays off, despite decent performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg. Maybe because those guys are supposed to be brothers?

The Bigger Picture:  Good-cop brother Joe (Wahlberg), scion of a multigenerational cop family, needs help from not-cop brother Bobby (Phoenix), a ne'er-do-well whose nightclub connections give him an in with an international drug ring. Bobby's reluctant to bite the hand that feeds him—until the cold war between the police and the dealers suddenly gets hot.

Or as hot as We Own the Night gets, at any rate. Phoenix, who's really the lead, does his level best to stay engaging, and there's something noble about his hazy, mush-mouthed black sheep. Eva Mendes is compelling, even though her character is often victimized for the convenience of the plot. But Wahlberg and Robert Duvall stick doggedly to their martinet roles in a way that suggests uninspired direction.

Apart from a few interesting scenes—particularly a tense car chase through a torrential downpour—this is the stuff of turgid melodrama, a dime-store thriller whose plot twists only sap the story of much needed momentum and require a suspension of disbelief at odds with the true-to-life aesthetic.

One gets the feeling the story is set in 1988 only so neither heroes nor villains have access to Google. And certain scenes might as well have been improvised—badly—given the resounding clunk of the dialogue. As cop flicks go, We Own the Night is really more of a rental.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  The aforementioned car chase and a gunfight/hunt through a reedy marshland would be great sequences in a completely different film.