Taking its title from the motto engraved on all NYPD officers' badges, "We Own the Night" is essentially the Prodigal Son story transplanted to the mean, crime-ridden streets of New York City. Robert Duvall is Burt Grusinsky, a high ranking police chief with two sons, one "good" and the other "bad." Joseph has eagerly followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a captain on the force, while Bobby wants nothing whatsoever to do with the police and, in fact, spends much of his time running around with the unsavory drug dealers who frequent the lucrative nightclub he successfully manages. It isn't until one of those associates has Joseph shot after a narcotics raid on the club that Bobby learns where his true loyalties lie. He agrees to go undercover for the force to unmask the identity of the shooter and bring down the Russian drug cartel that set Joseph up.
At times, while watching the movie, I kept thinking that writer/director James Gray had simply grafted the Michael Corleone story onto "The Departed." Still, despite its derivative nature, "We Own the Night" is a tightly scripted, occasionally ingenious police procedural featuring a riveting, knockout performance by Joaquin Phoenix in the role of Bobby. He gets solid support from Duval, Mark Wahlberg as Joseph, and Eva Mendes as the true love who doesn't feel all that comfortable with Bobby's sudden fascination with helping out the police.
Gray provides a number of highly suspenseful moments, as well as a terrifically mounted car chase through the rain-soaked streets of the city. The sound is also unusually effective, creating an often surrealistic sense of dislocation at crucial dramatic moments (though the Blondie-inspired soundtrack is slightly anachronistic for 1988, the year in which the story is set).
Bobby's conversion from lawbreaker to law enforcer is not always entirely convincing and we are often forced to accept quite a bit on faith just to keep the story rolling. In the long run, though, the polish and professionalism displayed on both sides of the camera ultimately lift the movie above its various imperfections.