The Films of James Gray
The Yards (October 12/07)
From director James Gray comes this slow-moving tale about the chaos that ensues after a business shakedown goes horribly wrong, as rookie Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg) finds himself the focus of a city-wide manhunt by both the cops and his former associates. Joaquin Phoenix costars as a childhood-friend-turned-pursuer, while James Caan plays Leo's increasingly frazzled boss. Gray - along with cinematographer Harris Savides - has infused The Yards with a palpable sense of style that ultimately proves impossible to resist, and there's little doubt that the filmmaker's use of dark visuals effectively matches the moody, almost operatic tone of the script. This vibe is also reflected in the uniformly somber performances, with Wahlberg and company effectively bringing their respectively complex characters to life. There's little doubt, however, that the increasingly uneventful vibe ultimately ensures that The Yards feels about a half-hour longer than it needs to be - although, admittedly, the whole thing does recover nicely for an expectedly explosive finale.
We Own the Night (November 13/07)
While there's little doubt that James Gray has long since established himself as a talented (and thoroughly distinctive) filmmaker, We Own the Night - much like his first two efforts, Little Odessa and The Yards - suffers from an overly deliberate pace that ultimately prevents the viewer from fully connecting with the material. This is despite the inclusion of several genuinely thrilling sequences, with a third-act car chase (which transpires during a torrential downpour!) certainly the most obvious example of this. The film casts Joaquin Phoenix as Bobby Green, a flashy nightclub manager who is forced to question his hedonistic lifestyle after his cop brother (Mark Wahlberg) is injured by the Russian mafia. There's never a point at which We Own the Night doesn't feel like a typical Gray effort, as the movie possesses many of the thematic and stylistic touchstones that one has come to expect from the filmmaker. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however; along with cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asay, Gray has infused the proceedings with a moody visual sensibility that proves to be an ideal match for the equally somber screenplay. The increasingly episodic nature of the story - coupled with Phoenix's complex, surprisingly layered performance - ensures that We Own the Night does improve substantially as it progresses, with the end result a film that fits comfortably within Gray's canon of work.
The Immigrant (June 18/14)
The Immigrant details the trials and tribulations of Polish expatriate Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard) in 1920s New York City, with the character's difficulties compounded by her antagonistic relationship with Joaquin Phoenix's sketchy Bruno Weiss. Filmmaker James Gray has infused The Immigrant with an impeccably conceived and executed sense of style that's reflected in the movie's various attributes, as the movie's consistently impressive visuals are heightened by the evocative set design, appropriately somber score, and uniformly top-notch performances. (It is, in terms of the latter, impossible not to be somewhat disappointed by Phoenix's incongruously muted turn as the sleazy Bruno, however.) Despite its raft of positive attributes, The Immigrant remains a tedious and completely uninvolving cinematic experience from start to finish - as Gray employs a disastrously deliberate pace that slowly-but-surely becomes oppressive. It doesn't help, either, that the film is generally devoid of compelling moments or sequences, with this absence of standout interludes resulting in an almost total lack of forward momentum (ie the movie is almost impossibly sluggish). The most obvious problem here is that Gray gives the viewer absolutely nothing to care about, either in terms of plot or characters, which naturally ensures that the writer/director's attempts at eliciting an emotional response fall completely and hopelessly flat. The mesmerizing final shot that closes the proceedings is ultimately indicative of The Immigrant's failings, as Gray's style-over-substance modus operandi stands as a consistent impediment to one's efforts at embracing anything or anyone within the spare narrative.