Running Time: 117 minutes
Rated: Rated MA 15+ (strong violence, drug use and coarse language)
James Gray has shown particular interest in Russian criminals in New York since his first feature, Little Odessa. It is 1988 and large deliveries of cocaine are being made and distributed in clubs. Joaquin Phoenix plays the fast and loose manager of Club Caribe in Brooklyn (owned by the Russians) while Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall play his police brother and father.
The opening credits have a collage of stills which reminds us of the police culture of New York and the range of criminals that they have been up against. The plot does not quite work out the way we would have expected although there are the usual investigations, undercover work and stakeouts. Gray seems more interested in the complicated family relationships as they are played out during the drug pursuit.
The clash between the brothers is very strong, a kind of Cain and Abel relationship which moves into something more like the parable of the Prodigal Son. Mark Wahlberg has established himself as a strong screen presence as has Joaquin Phoenix, who with Gladiator and Walk the Line shows he is capable of more versatility. They both appeared in James Gray's previous crime thriller, The Yards.
The cast give solid performances with Eva Mendes as Phoenix's Hispanic girlfriend who was after a good time but finds herself caught up in a witness protection program. There are some very nasty villains, once again the Russians who show how the Russian Mafia could develop in the US. Gray does have some car chases and shootouts but does not overdo them, contributing to a competent and interesting thriller.
Universal Out February 28
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting