Sunday, 24 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2007: Joaquin Phoenix in We Own the Night

Joaquin Phoenix did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Robert 'Bobby' Green in We Own the Night.

We Own the Night tells the story of a night club manager who finds himself in the center of a conflict between the police, including his brother and father, and the mob.

We Own the Night is one of those films that is not particularly bad, but it just fails to become anything special for the most part. The part of the film that seems trying to hardest to break out of this mediocrity is Joaquin Phoenix as Bobby Green the "bad" brother in a police family. Of course Bobby is not really a bad man he just happens to not be a star Captain in the police force like his brother Joe (Mark Wahlberg) or a deputy police chief like his father (Robert Duvall). Bobby's not a criminal himself, but in his position as a night club manager he does associate himself with many shady figures. Bobby also does not seem to spend his time in the most "noble" of pursuits as lives his life of pleasure with his girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes) in and around the night club. Phoenix is good here simply by playing the part in a straight forward fashion. Bobby does not really hate his family or love crime or anything like that really through Phoenix's performance. Phoenix instead presents Bobby as just enjoying his life in seemingly a harmless enough way, even if the people he must interact with can be a bit questionable.

Phoenix is very good in his early scenes with Duvall and Wahlberg, because he does not play them as though Bobby does not have any real animosity towards them even though they make it well known that they are very disapproving of his life style. Phoenix shows Bobby as almost kind of just shrugging off this disapproval with laughter, although Phoenix does well to quietly allude to Bobby being actually hurt by this within his uncaring facade. The relationship does take a greater strain when Joe raids Bobby's club, and the police even harass and arrest him along with some Russian mobsters. Phoenix again is very good in portraying Bobby's anger very bluntly over his mistreatment by both the police and his brother. He's particularly good in the scene where he directly confronts Joe about it because although Phoenix maintains an honest indignation there is just touch of juvenile disdain. This might seem odd, but what Phoenix does in the scene is show the history between the two in the fight, as there is something informal about the hatred in the moment fitting for feuding brothers who still had a close childhood together.

Bobby is soon forced to make a choice after those Russian mobsters almost succeed in killing Joe and soon afterwards remark that they intend to kill Bobby's father next. Phoenix is very moving in the scene where he reacts to hearing about Joe being shot, as he succeeds in naturally revealing that even with the feuding Bobby never stopped being part of the family for a moment. This change could have seemed sudden but Phoenix in those earlier scenes so artfully planted the connection even when he was setting up the distance between them. Bobby chooses to help his family any way possible, even if it means putting his own life on the line to bring them down. Again this could have easily seemed to sudden but Phoenix just established Bobby's relationship with them so well, even though the writing was even fairly sparse, that it works. I especially love the scene where the brothers' father recognizes that he's done Bobby wrong, and they finally make amends. Phoenix and Duvall are terrific together as they find this earned warmth between the two as you feel the hardship that brought them to this point, along with the happiness of the two reconnecting.

The film sort of goes on a bit of an autopilot action revenge sort of thriller at this point, and does not do that all that well. Phoenix is forced into the position of running through these scenes at a very brisk pace without too much time to reflect on what it is that he's gone through. Luckily Phoenix does not lose his step within the film, and manages to convey Bobby's personal arc even within the mechanisms of the plot. Phoenix alludes to the old life a bit in the moments with Mendes, as Amada does not care for Bobby's new life which is basically hiding out from potential mob hits. Phoenix is great in these little scenes because he realizes the powerful longing in Bobby, not for his old party lifestyle, just a longing to be able to live a normal life with woman he loves. Phoenix is also surprisingly good in growing the relationship between Bobby and his family. Even with Mark Wahlberg being pretty underwhelming on his side of things, Phoenix manages to make something out the brothers finally coming together. With Duvall, who's considerably better than Wahlberg, Phoenix reveals such a genuine love between father and son.

The last act involves a great loss and the attempt to avenge that loss. Again not handled in a way that's anything remarkable, but Phoenix once again does so well to amplify whatever is to be found within the scenes. He makes the loss heartbreaking through what he established in the proceedings scenes, and quite simply through his gut wrenching reaction in the moment. On the seeing justice done side of things, I actually like how Phoenix plays it close to the chest here, and does not make Bobby suddenly a Punisher type figure. Phoenix keeps it honest to his character portraying an intense but subdued drive fitting for a normal man being pushed into a life that he never intended for himself. Phoenix is very effective though in still bringing out the palatable emotions of hatred but also sadness as he exacts justice for what has been done to his family. This is a very good performance by Phoenix as he manages to take the sometimes lacking material and keep it compelling. As Joaquin Phoenix characters go this is technically speaking a fairly straightforward one, but he never takes that as an excuse to be underwhelming here. He does not get lost in the plot as he always keeps the human element alive in the film by keeping the emotional core of the story alive through his remarkable portrayal.

30 comments:

Matt Mustin said...

He's an easy five for me, although I agree the film itself is not really anything special. Ratings and thoughts on the rest of the cast?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

There's a lot more going on in this film than you give it credit for, though it's really easy to miss on the first viewing.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Also, would you say your opinion of Joaquin Phoenix has changed over the past few years like Tom Cruise?

Michael McCarthy said...

Welp, seems I've overestimated Phoenix for the third time.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Luke: I've done your request of Norman Bates for the blog now :) Hope you aren't too outraged...

Anonymous said...

Eh, didn't think he was all that in this.

GM said...

Everyone: What's your Top 10 winless actors (in Louis' blog) that deserve a win? I am asking since there's just 10 years left.

Mine:
1. Max Von Sydow
2. Cary Grant
3. Al Pacino
4. Anthony Quinn
5. William Powell
6. Jean Gabin
7. Dirk Bogarde
8. Marcello Mastroianni
9. Ewan McGregor
10. Fredric March

Didn't include O'Toole, Day-Lewis and Connery for obvious reasons.

luke higham said...

GDSAO: It's your opinion, I won't judge.

luke higham said...

Louis: For Female Performances, Can I have the same again for 2002.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the latest episode of Game Of Thrones.

luke higham said...

GM: These are just off the top of my head.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis (Wins for My Left Foot)
2. Max Von Sydow
3. Tom Hardy
4. Michael Fassbender
5. Peter O'Toole (Wins for Laurence Of Arabia)
6. Sean Connery (Wins for The Last Crusade)
7. Matthew McConaughey
8. Ewan McGregor
9. Ian Holm
10. Alan Rickman

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

GM:

1. Daniel Day-Lewis (he will definitely win though for My Left Foot)
2. Ralph Richardson
3. Al Pacino
4. Lee J. Cobb
5. Tom Hardy
6. Max Von Sydow
7. Michael Redgrave (bonus reviews)
8. Sidney Poitier
9. Kirk Douglas
10. Peter O'Toole (he will win for Lawrence of Arabia)

luke higham said...

GM & GDSAO: Actually, I'll replace Rickman with Bale. I would put Mikkelsen in my top ten, but he only has one nomination so far and his performance in Casino Royale, is the only one Louis's seen of him.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt:

Wahlberg - 2.5(I think he's actually a bit miscast as the tightly wound type to begin with, as it just does not really suite his manner as an actor. In addition to that I felt he basically left all the heavy lifting to Phoenix in developing the relationship between the brothers adding very little to it himself. He's not bad though, but he's very much overshadowed here)

Duvall - 4(This is in the later Duvall wheelhouse of characters, but that's fine because unlike some of his contemporaries he still gives it his all. He of course does the tough love roughness while in the early scenes, but he's particularly good here in naturally revealing the tender side of his character)

Mendes - 3(How many times has she played this sort of role by now? She's fine here though, although I don't think she makes too much of an impact)

Veadov - 2.5(He's got the needed sort of menace for the part, but he fulfills the need of his part while not really surpassing it)

Robert:

I SEE ALLLLLLLLLL....anyway with Phoenix I think one's opinion of him would have to improve with his current streak, even if you already loved him.

Luke:

Actress:

1. Nicole Kidman - The Hours
2. Doona-Bae - Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance
3. Julianne Moore - Far From Heaven
4. Naomie Harris - 28 Days later
5. Julianne Moore - The Hours

Supporting Actress:

1. Miranda Richardson - Spider
2. Emily Watson - Punch-Drunk Love
3. Samantha Morton - Minority Report
4. Meryl Streep - Adaptation
5. Kathy Bates - About Schmidt

The first thing that needs to be said about that episode is Pryce was amazing every second he was onscreen, and he best get that guest nod. Speaking of guest nods though I find Rigg is great in her return her as she is being able to reveal a greater depth to her character past the one liners. Again the tension only continues to grow in almost every storyline, and I hope it all pays off. In terms of other highlights Peter Vaughan's sendoff was very moving, who I feel is one of the unsung heroes of the show. Although maybe the scene was a bit much overall I have to say it was quite nerve racking when it appears we were almost going to lose Bronn. In terms of complaints it is a shame it seems we are not getting much of Adewale Akinnuoye-agbaje, although he was good for the little bit we got him for. Also the fighting pit scene just was not well handled in terms of the action, no wonder she wanted to leave with that boring brawl going on. A solid episode and hopefully we are in for something quite special with the last three.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your Ratings for Doona-Bae, Naomie Harris and your rating & thoughts on Morton.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

My favorite scene in the episode was actually Margery's. I want to see more unhinged Natalie Dormer.

Anonymous said...

Kidman is now a 4.5 for The Hours or still a 4? I think that she's really great: she gives the most genuine performance of the movie despite the extremely baity role.

luke higham said...

Anonymous: I think, she'll remain a 4.

luke higham said...

*Lawrence Of Arabia.

moviefilm said...

Louis, what is your runner-up (or sixth in a row) for a nominee in 2002 leading actress race?

Michael McCarthy said...

I'm surprised Ralph Fiennes hasn't been on anyone's list, he'd at least be 2nd for me.

GM said...

McCarthy: Oh, I had forgotten he didn't win in 1993. Love Fiennes, I hope he wins a Oscar as well.

GM said...

Also, his performance in Red Dragon must be reviewed in the Bonus Round.

luke higham said...

I'll replace Holm with Fiennes.

mcofra7 said...

Is Red Dragon worth seeing, Fiennes aside?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

To be honest, not really. Let's just say they got it right the first time with Manhunter.

luke higham said...

Louis: Top 5 Female Lead/Supporting Performances - 2003 & 2005.

luke higham said...

Louis: With ratings as well.

Anonymous said...

Louis, you didn't like Diane Lane in Unfaithful?

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

4 for the leads.

Morton - 4.5(Quite like her work here as she gives her character life past just being really the mcguffin to move Cruise's character forward. She brings a palatable distress in her work fitting for someone who has to live through murders over and over again. What I like most is her scenes after the escape as I quite like her and Cruise's chemistry together because it's not romantic. They do form a different kind of bond between the characters though which is rather effective)

2003:

Actress:

1. Charlize Theron - Monster
2. Nicole Kidman - Dogville
3. Uma Thurman - Kill Bill Vol.1
4. Hope Davis - American Splendor - 4
5. Naomi Watts - 21 Grams

Supporting Actress:

1. Shohreh Aghdashloo - House of Sand and Fog
2. Vivica Fox - Kill Bill Vol. 1
3. Patricia Clarkson - Dogville - 4
4. Patricia Clarkson - Station Agent - 4
5. Helena Bonham Carter - Big Fish - 4

2005:

Actress:

1. Naomi Watts - King Kong
2. Q'orianka Kilcher - The New World - 4.5
3. Joan Allen - The Upside of Anger - 3.5

That's all I got.

Supporting Actress:

1. Emily Watson - The Proposition
2. Michelle Monaghan - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
3. Maria Bello - A History of Violence
4. Melissa Leo - The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - 4
5. January Jones - The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - 3.5

Anonymous:

Haven't seen her.

John Smith:

1971:

1. A Clockwork Orange
2. 10 Rillington Place
3. The French Connection
4. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
5. The Last Picture Show
6. The Beguiled
7. Get Carter
8. Dirty Harry
9. Duck You Sucker
10. Play Misty For Me