The career of James Gray has been one of the hidden splendors of near-Hollywood for more than twenty years. After his second, vastly ambitious feature, “The Yards,” set in his home borough of Queens, was scantly released, in 2000, it took Gray more than half a decade to get going again, and he did so with “We Own the Night,” from 2007, newly available on Netflix, a movie that only superficially resembles the kind of studio-backed crime drama that it was marketed as. “We Own the Night” is a hard-nosed, Brooklyn-centered police story, set in 1988–89, and starring Joaquin Phoenix as Bobby Green, a night-club manager with big ideas who’s the black sheep of his family. His father, Burt Grusinsky (Robert Duvall), is a deputy police chief, and his brother, Joe (Mark Wahlberg), is a decorated police lieutenant. But when Joe is shot by a drug dealer who’s believed to have ties to the night club, Bobby’s allegiances are severely tested. (Bobby took his late mother’s maiden name when he went to work.) Gray is among the most operatic of all filmmakers; for him, the plot’s twists and turns—which he devises with observational acuity—are like a libretto, with images of high lyrical power that accentuate performances of a fiercely amped-up expressivity. As Bobby grows more implicated in the drug business and confronts ever more deadly threats, the air of paranoia taints his relationships with his girlfriend (Eva Mendes), his boss (Moni Moshonov), and his best friend (Danny Hoch). Gray films the dangerous doings with a tension-stoking clarity, and his cinematographic view of New York neighborhoods blends documentary precision and poetic romanticism. (There’s also an intense and agonizingly intimate car chase.) Yet, for all his tautly psychological realism, Gray seems to be distracted in the best possible way, to have his attention on an inner realm of moods, emotions, and memories that the drama doesn’t so much embody as conjure, with Proustian overtones. Despite its overt cinematic classicism, “We Own the Night” is a film of advanced and multilayered modernism.

Stream “We Own the Night” on Netflix, Amazon, and other services.

Sourse: newyorker.com

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