We Own the Night
dir. James Gray
Set in New York City's drug wars of the 1980s, We Own the Night looks like a typical urban thriller, the kind that invariably stars Matt Damon and/or Joaquin Phoenix and/or Mark Wahlberg. It is an urban thriller starring the latter two, but writer-director James Gray keeps a quiet reserve that makes the movie credible and moving. His New York is cold, dirty, and damp. His actors have ill-trimmed nails.
Phoenix plays the manager of a fancy, druggy club run by the Russian mafia. Wahlberg plays his brother, who is also a cop. Robert Duvall (grizzled, awesome) plays their dad, who is also New York's chief of police. Family get-togethers are tense. Then the cop brother gets promoted to the narcotics squad and the bar brother is offered a cut in a big coke deal. Everything gets tenser.
The movie's refusal to drift into shoot-'em-up histrionics keeps us believing, engaged, and on edge. The obligatory car chase is more harrowing because it's clumsy and slow—it's not hard to imagine yourself behind the wheel. The scene when the bar brother goes to the Russian mafia's cocaine factory is a study in sinister details—a tattoo glimpsed through a ripped curtain, torn wallpaper, and the tip of a letter opener sticking out of a man's sleeve.
And the performances! Phoenix and Wahlberg are fine in a manly and mumbling way, but the supporting actors make the movie: Robert Duvall's minimalist gruffness is improbably charming. Alex Veadov plays the baddest bad guy with such placid menace that the story you hear about him at the beginning of the movie—involving a severed head and some misplaced genitals—sounds about right. He might be a fictional character, but I'm still afraid to write anything that would piss him off. BRENDAN KILEY
The Darjeeling Limited
dir. Wes Anderson
In keeping with Wes Anderson's recent trajectory, The Darjeeling Limited is maddening. There are, as always, moments when you feel you're watching the work of an indisputable genius; unfortunately, those moments are tempered, and occasionally overwhelmed, by long stretches of inane chatter and reflexive quirkiness. Stylistically, the film is a thing of beauty, with India's vibrant colors providing much for Anderson's widescreen lens to capture. But as in The Royal Tenenbaums and, most glaringly, The Life Aquatic, that style is squandered on a story that refuses to move beyond a superficial sheen.
That's not to say that The Darjeeling Limited is a bad movie—it's half bad, with its sharp first reels gradually undermined by the creeping feeling that Anderson, along with his cowriters Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, are unconcerned with where they lead us. Following three estranged brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Schwartzman) on "some sort of spiritual quest" through India, the film's early moments onboard the cramped Darjeeling Limited rail line are strange and wonderful. Each brother is damaged—whether emotionally or, in Wilson's case, physically—and their interplay suggests hilarious depth yet to be explored.
Once the boys are sent off the train, however, The Darjeeling Limited can't help but disintegrate. Reaching, jarringly, for tragedy in the third act, the film's descent to earth is botched, completely failing to earn the emotional manipulation it forces on us. Anderson obviously wants to grow up as a filmmaker (in the first scene he leaves Bill Murray and, presumably, his previous films, behind at the station), but just like his characters, he's unwilling to put in the work to achieve that goal. By the time the brothers literally shed their baggage, all you're left with is quirkiness masking as spiritual reckoning. If that's the point, it's no longer funny. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
The Final Season
dir. David M. Evans
The Final Season is one of those extremely earnest baseball movies where nothing happens but baseball. And emotions. There is no way you won't be bored, unless you're one of those extremely earnest people who are into baseball in a really corny way. Like, maybe you have a vanity plate that says "#1SLUGR." And in your den there's a wooden plaque that reads, "On the eighth day God created baseball," and when you look at it you can't help but chuckle (every time), but then you also give a solemn little nod. Because he totally did, you know? (You like to think of God as the big head coach in the sky.) And you love it when you're sitting on your gramps's porch and he's talking about his old Sarge, and how Sarge used to say things like, "Ya know, those old timers say that baseball's the only game on earth where the object is to get home." And then you start crying, and Gramps makes you go inside before the whole fucking neighborhood hears you.
Anyway, it's like that.
Kent Stock (the ever-doughy Sean Astin, who also executive produced) arrives in Norway, Iowa, to serve as assistant baseball coach at the local high school, under the legendary Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe—YESSSSS!). Thanks to Van Scoyoc, and a preponderance of heart, these bumpkins and farmers' sons have managed to win an astounding 19 consecutive state titles. In fact, they "grow baseball players" in Norway, "like corn." Now, the Evil School Board wants to close Norway High and ship the students to a bigger school 20 miles away. But "what about our local economy?" AND WHAT ABOUT THE BASEBALL?
The movie has a sentimental ax to grind about the death of small-town America ("You don't get it, do ya? Kids in small towns like Norway have somethin' special!"). The writing is terrible. The baseball is endless. But, like I said, you'll enjoy it if you really, really love baseball. Or hate entertainment. Or is there a difference? LINDY WEST