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Writer-director James Gray has a claim to the title of most under-appreciated virtuoso in American film. I wonder if it's his almost remorseless consistency of tone.
His three films so far - Little Odessa (1994), The Yards (2000) and now We Own the Night - are all New York crime dramas about flawed families buffeted by ruthless forces bigger than themselves.
'We Own the Night" was the slogan of the New York police in the 1980s, painted on the sides of their squad cars as a promise to take back the night from the drug trade. In James Gray's new film of the same name, the battle for control of the night is undecided, and brothers from the same family find themselves on opposite sides.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Bobby Green, not his real name, as the manager of a thriving Brooklyn nightclub, moving smoothly through the crowds every night, meeting and greeting, keeping an eye on everything, loved by a beautiful girlfriend (Eva Mendes).
” she asks as she scans the menu, holding up her slender hands to show me her crazy long fuchsia nails. These are fake nails for a photo shoot, and they won’t come off. She has willowy arms, a forehead that furrows and slightly buck teeth, as she calls them, that lend her generous smile its warmth.“It’s very hard for me to be seen as funny, and the truth is, that’s where I’m most comfortable,” she says when talk turns to her latest film, , which opens in August and also stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.
Mendes plays über woman Sheila Gamble, a Knicks dancer–turned–doctor married to a dunderhead of a forensics cop (Ferrell) who doesn’t realize what a babe his wife is.
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As someone firmly in the "pro" camp, I get so absorbed in the hushed intrigue of Gray's dramas that I have to remind myself to breathe.
Gray is also that increasingly rare thing: a smashing manager of movie stars.
Depending on your point of view, Gray's direction is either bogged down or bolstered by its sotto voce aura of foreboding, its unfashionable tragic conviction.
It's a self-conscious style, but in quite a different way from most of his contemporaries - alert and pregnant, and often thrillingly serious.