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WE OWN THE NIGHT

About The Film
Writer-director James Gray, who previously garnered critical acclaim for his films The Yards and Little Odessa, takes the helm of Columbia Pictures'/2929 Productions' We Own the Night. "This is a film that works in a specific and familiar genre – the police movie,” explains Gray. "But normally the police movie focuses on procedure – finding the bad guy. I wanted to do something much more focused on character and emotion. The genre becomes a point of departure to tell a story about a man caught by his destiny, his inevitable fate, and the complex and internally conflicted emotions that love, loss, and betrayal yield.”

As it explores the emotional relationships between the characters, We Own the Night employs a very particular kind of storytelling. "I guess what I'm doing could be called classical storytelling,” Gray says. "I'm not interested in ‘what will happen' to Bobby, but how will it happen? It's an idea that dates back to the ancient Greeks – that one's life is shaped primarily by forces outside of one's control, as if the gods have dealt each person a fate – a destiny. The Greeks had no interest in the whodunit – if you were focused on that, you weren't focused on character. 

"A man's ability to change his own fate is much more limited than we would like to believe,” says Gray. "Other factors play a big role in life – the flow of history, culture, family, external events, instinct, and love. This is what I wanted explore.”

The idea for the film began when a studio executive suggested to Gray that he write "a cop movie with a car chase.” Without any initial ideas about how to bring this about, Gray conceived the story that would become We Own the Night when he saw a New York Times photograph of a police funeral. "In the photo, all of these grown men were hugging…in tears after one of their fellow officers had been killed in the line of duty,” recalls Gray. "And the image had such tremendous emotion.” 

He realized this was an aspect of cop life he could investigate – and as the film would use the procedural only as a backdrop for the more emotional story, it would be different from many other movies now playing at a theater near you. "You don't see too many cop movies about family and emotion,” he says.

"I tried very hard to make the emotion in the film earnest and sincere,” Gray continues. "You could say it's melodrama – which is a pejorative term, but doesn't have to be. Bobby's emotions at certain points in the film can be melodramatic, but it's OK because his performance invites outside emotion – and I think that's cinema's highest calling.”

Still, Gray never forgot he was working within a genre. "I was anxious to make something not just thrilling, but explosive, dramatic. And frankly, filled with action – of course, there's that car chase,” he says.

So, beginning with that suggestion for a cop movie with a car chase, We Own the Night began the long journey of coming to the screen. Gray was going on ride-alongs with the NYPD as early as 2001; by 2003, he had finished the first draft of the screenplay, which he wrote specifically for the two actors that would play the main characters: Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg. 

"This is a very personal movie,” continues Gray. "That doesn't mean autobiographical. As I was writing the screenplay, I used elements that came from local news stories as well as things I learned by going on police ride-alongs. I found many stories about people who, because of their circumstances, hid their family connections to the police. Everything you see in the film came from real events but I also used my relationships with my father and brother. So I did steal a lot from my background as well.”

Gray was also influenced by two archetypal Bible stories about brothers: Cain and Abel, of course, but also – and especially – the story of Joseph and hi

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