Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
Night Buildup Begins in Earnest
2007-05-18 11:29
by Jon Weisman

We Own the Night, the third film by my cousin James Gray that I previously discussed here and here, gets feature treatment in the Times and Newsday this week.

Here's an excerpt from Patrick Goldstein's piece in the Times, which also highlights some of the machinations that can make or break a film in Hollywood:

Not so long ago, it looked like James Gray's career as a film director might be over. His 2000 movie, "The Yards," a drama with a cast of budding young talent — Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron — had just bombed at the box office, making less than $900,000 in its U.S. release. To make matters worse, Gray had been so upset about the way Miramax had handled its release that he got into a very public spitting match with the studio's then chief, Harvey Weinstein — generally not considered an advisable path for a young filmmaker.

What a difference seven years makes. Gray has finally emerged with a new film that could earn both critical plaudits and win the 38-year-old director a larger audience. Called "We Own the Night," the movie is a gripping drama set in the 1980s at the height of a bloody war between New York police and Russian mobsters who have targeted the officers and their families. The film stars Phoenix and Wahlberg as brothers in conflict. ...

Having had an early peek at the movie, I can see what all the excitement is about. Gray's earlier films, including his 1995 debut, "Little Odessa," were intense dramas, reminiscent of '50s films by Nicholas Ray and Elia Kazan. (Variety dismissed "The Yards" as an " 'On the Waterfront' wannabe.") Despite stellar performances from such actors as Tim Roth and Phoenix, the pictures were too dark and claustrophobic to connect with mainstream audiences.

"We Own the Night" is a big breakthrough. It's a searing family drama as well as a cops-versus-criminals thriller with the same sticky web of loyalty and rivalry seen in Martin Scorsese's best work. Phoenix is the family black sheep, running a mob-owned nightclub, while Wahlberg has become a cop like their father, played by Robert Duvall. ...

Gray originally wrote the script for Warner Bros., encouraged by then-production chief Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who saw in Gray's script many of the compelling qualities of "Training Day," which was a big critical hit for the studio. But after Bonaventura was pushed out of the studio in 2002, Gray said the project began to lose momentum. When 2929 offered to finance the film, Warners let the project go.

Warners wasn't the only studio to let the movie slip out of its hands. When Gray was shooting the film in the spring of 2006, Universal Pictures acquired U.S. distribution rights. Much of Universal's enthusiasm for the film came from Jon Gordon, who had worked with Gray at Miramax before becoming a production chief at Universal. But months after Universal acquired the film, Gordon was fired. The studio eventually dropped the film, leaving it open for a bidding war at Cannes. ...

Every thread at Screen Jam is an open chat thread.

2007-05-18 11:48:11
1.   Benaiah
Well, that is a heck of a cast anyway. Anything with Phoenix and Whalberg is going to get some press. Whalberg especially is smoking hot after his role in The Departed. Hopefully that will work in your cousin's advantage and put the butts in the seats.
2007-05-18 13:54:09
2.   Eric Enders
Jon, I had no idea your cousin directed "The Yards." I absolutely loved that movie and never understood why it never got more acclaim or recognition. Looking forward to this one, too.

Just out of curiosity, what's Variety's policy regarding coverage of movies made by staffers' relatives?

2007-05-18 14:31:21
3.   Jon Weisman
2 - I imagine it resembles the Randy Wolf-Jim Wolf umpiring policy.
2007-05-18 18:26:49
4.   overkill94
3 Sooo, you can't review his movie but you can write an article about him?
2007-05-18 18:52:22
5.   Jon Weisman
:) In theory. But there are enough film writers around that it probably won't come up.
2007-05-18 23:00:29
6.   Bob Timmermann
So Randy Wolf will review the movie?
2007-05-19 08:44:00
7.   Andrew Shimmin
Movies and numbers. Two great tastes, that taste great together.

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