From the previews I thought that We Own The Night was going to be the story of two brothers who end up as enemies in the war on drugs. But that's not really what it is. It's more the story of two divided brothers reluctantly coming together in the face of tragedy; basically a tale of the bond of family winning over everything else. And watching the preview again now I probably should have picked up on that, but it's hard to process all that information in a short time period.
It's a good thing, because the plot is far more interesting this way. Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg play brothers who are headed in opposite directions. Wahlberg's character is following the footsteps of their father (played by Robert Duvall) as a police officer, while Phoenix's character is partying hard as a club manager and is slowly getting involved in the drug culture. In a lesser movie, Phoenix's character would be on path to become some villain who slowly loses his humanity and the ability to understand the harm he's causing. But this ain't that movie. Instead he goes through the painful process of abandoning the life he had built for himself when he sees harm come to his brother and father.
It’s all about family and duty. The two brothers don't get along at all. But even if in adult life you don't connect with your sibling that doesn't mean you can undo the childhood you shared. That bond, even if unintended or undesired, is strong. Phoenix's character throws away everything to protect his family, but he doesn't do it through some noble sense of martyrdom. He doesn't go through some heartfelt transformation and emerge sunshine and rainbows. He's conflicted the whole time. He loses the life he wanted, and he's pretty miserable afterwards.
It's complicated. I came in expecting something less subtle than what I got, so I was pleasantly surprised.