Writer-director James Gray sets We Own the Night in 1988. The title comes from the late-'80s motto of the NYPD's street- crimes unit, and a key location is a garish dance club where coke flows like Coke.
But at heart, Gray wants to make the best American movie of 1958. This hoary melodrama about father and son New York City policemen (Robert Duvall and Mark Wahlberg) and the black-sheep, club-manager brother (Joaquin Phoenix) who helps them defeat the Russian mob is a throwback to the time when New York-based directors, bred on live TV, weren't shy or all that skillful about mixing moral earnestness with urban grit and method-acting anguish. Gray says he went to school on William Friedkin's French Connection (1971). He's actually created something weirder and (alas) far lousier.
We Own the Night (Sony) Starring Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix. Directed by James Gray. Rated R. Time 117 minutes.