I finally took the plunge and joined the next generation of television, gaming, and film with my purchase of a Sony Playstation 3, a 37" HD TV, and my first Blu-Ray DVD rental. Before we discuss We Own The Night, here are a few words that may help those of you who straggle into the HD world even later than me.
First… do it. I know it's pricey; believe me, I know, but damn if it doesn't look, sound, and feel great.
Second, setup is pretty easy but there are a few things those of you who aren't among the tech savviest in the world will want to know. If you use a PS3 as your Blu-Ray player of choice, you'll need to tweak a couple settings to get the best possible audio performance. There are two options in the BD/DVD settings for audio. If you're using something other than an HDMI cable to process your audio (an optical cable, for instance), you must change the default output method from PCM to Bitstream). I spent damn near an hour toggling different settings in the menus before I finally got that set correctly. Even then, I wouldn't have known had I not found the answer on a forum. I should have known, but I guessed wrong. God bless the internets. As it turns out, I'm glad I went through the hour of frustration because it really did enhance my enjoyment of We Own The Night.
As for the film, it's a B-movie plot with some A-list actors. You've seen this plot and these themes explored before and you've seen them explored better.
Bobby "Green" (Joaquin Phoenix) is the black sheep of his family. His father, Albert Grusinski (Robert Duvall), is a deputy chief of the New York City Police Department and his brother, Joe Grusinski (Mark Wahlberg), has just been made an NYPD captain. Bobby is running a swank nightclub with Russian mob ties.
Bobby is invited to Joe's promotion party at which point Joe and Albert let Bobby know his club is no longer just a hot spot for the beautiful people to do a little dancing and recreational drugs, it is now a launching pad for a tough brand of Russian drug lords. Despite the obvious tension and distance between them and Bobby, Joe and Albert are hoping he'll keep his ear to the ground and inform on the dealers. Albert warns Bobby that the time will soon come for him to decide if he's with the cops or with drug dealers.
At this point I should warn you there are going to be some spoilers in the paragraphs to come because I feel like I'm doing potential viewers a disservice not to rip an appalling plot twist.
Bobby gets put even more squarely in the middle of the conflict when Vadim Nezhinski, the drug-ring leader, orders a hit on Joe. The hit is botched and Joe is maimed, not killed. Nezinski, despite being able to uncover all manner of secret police information, is somehow fooled by Bobby's last name change (it's his mother's maiden name) and never connects Bobby to his PD relations. So fooled is tough guy Nezhinski that he actually asks for Bobby's help in distributing his product. At this meeting between them, Nezhinski makes it clear that Albert will be the next to get clipped.
With his brother near death in the hospital and his father a marked man, Bobby finally decides to go confidential informant for the police. Of course he gets discovered, and a bloody, brutal gunfight ensues. Of course Nezhinski escapes and vows to get his revenge against the entire family.
If that's not lame enough for you, it gets worse. Albert is killed in a high-speed chase trying to protect Bobby and his girlfriend, played by Eva Mendes. She is utterly forgettable in this movie save for the blatant nipple shot in the film's opening scene. With one brother having been wounded and his father murdered, Bobby the former nightclub man is provisionally deputized by the NYPD and allowed to join the case with his grieving and recovered brother. That stretches the bonds of plausibility way too far for me. We don't know that Bobby has priors and maybe he doesn't, but I can't believe NYPD would bring a civilian in and let him track his family's nemesis on a provisional basis with no actual police training. My disbelief just doesn't extend that far.
At this point, just as I've almost entirely disengaged from the film I became really glad I bothered to get my Dolby Digital set correctly. In the film's climactic scene, Bobby stalks Nezhinsky through a marsh. The sound mix is excellent here and the sounds of predator and prey are bounced around the different speaker channels as reeds and underbrush are moved aside during the chase. It's an effective use of the technology and adds to an otherwise pedestrian finale. To the film's credit, the action ends crisply and there is no agonizing chase between two mortally wounded adversaries.
The film looks very sharp in its Blu-Ray presentation. The loud, red shirt Bobby wears at the beginning of the movie looks crisp on screen. The scene where Bobby is first asked for help by his family takes place in a Catholic sanctuary. It's well lit and visually pleasing even if it is nothing spectacular. The scenes of graphic violence appear much more graphic with the enhanced resolution and actually look quite good, if you care about that sort of thing.
If you've read this far you might be under the impression that the movie is awful or that I just hated it. That's not true. It's not bad; it's just not very good nor is it particularly original. These three leading men are all fine actors and do their best to make the material hold up. It's to their credit the film holds your interest as long as it does. I paid $5 to rent it at Blockbuster and I don't feel like my money was wasted. I got a chance to finally see a movie on Blu-Ray. Unfortunately that was probably more impressive to me than the film itself.