The end of ambivalence: james gray’s reactionary mafia marche "we own the night"
New york, 1988. Bobby, the scion of a cop family, runs a hip brooklyn nightclub, albeit one with ties to the russian mafia. When the mob targets bobby’s father and brother, prodigal son bobby sacrifices his former life, returns home, and becomes a police v-man – at a high price. James grays "we own the night" is the symbolic execution of the hedonistic-individualistic values of the 80s. A tendentious mafia movie, which is neither cinematically nor in its message convincing, but furthermore propagates an arch-reactionary world view. If the wiesbaden film rating board does not want to abolish itself in the foreseeable future, it should not award such films the "rating of" .
All images:universal pictures international
An opening that promises everything: eva mendes lasciviously lolls on a sofa, an invitation to sex that is extended to the viewer as well as to bobby green (joaquin phoenix), the man who is currently alone in the room with her. We are in 1988, "heart of glass" is played from the off – already the first mistake, because in 1988 did anyone want to listen to blondie at all?? -, then you are completely immersed in this world of temptation and temptation, pleasure and danger, of pure ambivalence: sex, drugs, music, a hedonism of the here and now. But unfortunately, the longer the film lasts, the less it keeps this promise.
These little signs, already misplaced at the beginning – a disco in brooklyn, an ad from the late 70s – may not bother younger or more unsuspecting viewers at all, but they are a good indication that the author of this film is himself at least superficial and clueless, if not indifferent to his film at all. Good directors worry about details in particular and, without being control freaks, very deliberately misapply them as they do: for example, the famous schuhmann stucco in kubrick’s "barry lyndon", which is not a mistake, but a romantic sign, an anticipation of the coming epochal change. Has blondies "heart of glass" a similar sense?
Strong father and half-strong sons
Green is a morally unconcerned nightclub manager, as he appears in a book about the russian demimonde, and at the same time the black sheep of a police family in new york. This prodigal son, however, can, as is soon to be noticed, be completely separated from the "terror connection family" (alexander kluge) is unable to free himself from the burden of his origins. Especially since his family treats him as a traitor or at least as a disenchantment, depending on his temperament. A little too quickly, director james gray unfolds this milieu of strong fathers and half-strong sons, of obedience and religion, tradition and violence. "We own the night", the original title, is thereby the motto of the police unit.
Russians in america are already in gray’s "little odessa" and "the yards" what the italians are for martin scorsese. Joaquin phoenix and mark wahlberg play two mismatched brothers from queens’ russian-american milieu, robert duvall portrays the father. Much less than a few weeks ago in david cronenberg’s "deadly promises" this is characterized by the desire for lurid cliches, for comic exaggeration (cf. Even bad people know songs). Gray shows not blood and borscht, but duty and inclination.
Up to the middle it works quite well, even if it is a bit too much determined by poses and a bit too second hand – coppola for the poor. But even with a few rough scenes, like a car chase through lashing rain, which in their beauty and originality are on par with the rough models "french connection" and "bullitt" if gray could not keep up with the story, it would not have been so mercilessly exaggerated again and would have looked for excuses in invisibility: one can hardly recognize what is actually happening, and one must also fear that gray means everything metaphorically in the end: water = deluge and baptism. But then he could also have his hero drive through a car wash.
And yet remains "we own the night" remains interesting as long as it keeps its double bottom, the nightclub with its drug business and mafia criminals, as long as it keeps an eye on the erotic temptation of eva mendes and as long as it is on the side of the border-crosser bobby. To stand seems.
Women are always told at just the right moment to please leave the room
Then, all too abruptly, he changes sides, joins the police force – in new york, apparently, the right fathers can do that in a day – and the film becomes a plea for vigilante justice dripping with an overdose of testosterone. Men say "motherfocker" and answer "fuck you!", when they want to be nice to each other and are that they won’t shit their pants anymore. Women are always told at the right moment to please leave the room.
This unreflective celebration of the mannerbundian and its patriarchal values, of the subjection of the individual and the personal to the authority of father and community, is masked in a noir rough town tale, but even as a film it doesn’t do anything right anymore.
"Better to be judged by twelve, than carried by six"
The plot becomes unbelievably incoherent even in the smallest details, the psychology incoherent. One gets the impression that the director is really only concerned with an ideological pamphlet: the end of the 80s, the end of ambivalence. In any case, the main character bobby has to give up the nightclub life and return to the family, back to tribal morality. A necessary and acceptable sacrifice, the film bluntly asserts. The director is not above letting the world trade center shimmer through the window during a conversation between the brother and sister, and even if it could be said that the building was still standing in 1988, such a thickly displayed image naturally has a very different, much more far-reaching meaning.
Revenge and vigilante justice are justified in the shadow of the victims and in the face of the perpetrators we are dealing with here – that is the message: "better to be judged by twelve, than carried by six". "Better in court than dead", says bobby, it’s as simple as that if you want to make it that way. James gray’s late adolescent worldview paints the world as a battlefield of honor in archaic metaphors and black-hot fatalism.
Heterogeneity must become uniform again
Visually, this remains as clumsy as the moral until the end: phoenix shoots the chief villain in the last minutes like the hunter shoots the game in the bushes – in new york – into which he himself goes back, after he had previously set it on fire – actually to drive the bosewight out and arrest him. But then he could not have been shot.
A reactionary fairy tale that is only interested in making heterogeneity uniform again, in bringing the prodigal son home. At any price. For this bobby sacrifices a father, his freedom and a love.