Dave's Rating:

3.5

… tense, violent, soaking in mood.

Who's in It: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes

The Basics: It's 1988, and everyone's snorting cocaine. Like, out in the open, in line at the supermarket — doesn't matter. NYC is crazy with blow. So two brothers — one a cop, one a nightclub manager — get caught up with some very mean Russian drug dealers, the kind who just point a gun at your face and shoot even if you're not really the guy they're after. Then comes the tragedy and the sacrifice and the honor and the family loyalty and stuff. You've seen it before.

What's the Deal? And yet it's still not so bad. Director-writer James Gray makes it all seem more urgent than it has any right to feel, because he knows how to make tense, violent dramas that are soaking in mood. That mood is one of grim unhappiness most of the time, but still, he's good at it. So just because you'll figure it all out and not remember much about it the next day, it's a solid family/crime drama.

Two Great Moments: Without giving spoiler-y details, there's a scene with a drug deal where someone's wearing a wire and, later, a terrifying car chase in the rain. Both of them will have you clawing at your arm rest.

Other Stuff to Like: Duvall is his usual rock-like self, and he's always a welcome presence in a movie. And Wahlberg is really getting it together on how to keep playing a variation on the same type of guy and not bore himself or us. In The Departed, he had all the funny, mean stuff to say. Here he keeps it very low-key.

On the Other Hand: Phoenix acts like someone had to drag him around by the scruff of his neck just to get him to walk through his own scenes. If "messed-up" was what he was going for, he nails it. Oh, and a somewhat unrelated but still relevant P.S. — Dear '80s-Themed Movies, stop pretending mullets weren't everywhere.

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