Alright, I think this topic could stir up some debate. Over the last two weeks I’ve viewed all of Gray’s films, and I have come to the conclusion that the man is seriously underrated. He’s only released four films in fifteen years, and while they are all a bit problematic and melodramatic, Gray manages to elicit some very strong performances and he has a knack for putting a fresh spin on a formulaic idea. What do you think?
Is he under appreciated because he is uncool and not nearly as quirky as many American filmmakers today? Has he taken too long between films to really bowl over American critics (he is raved about in France)? Do you think his work calls for a reevaluation, or should we forget about him? Has he been overlooked simply because he’s not good enough?
I personally think he has gotten lumped into being seen as a Scorsese/ Coppola/ Lumet wannabe when his films are actually more European in flavor and tone. His examinations of fate remind me of Kieslowski, whereas his operatic plot points call to mind Visconti, especially Rocco & His Brothers.
Is there greatness in him, and do you think The Lost City of Z is his chance to really create something special?
I think he’s actually something of a throwback and his films would have been better received by American critics if he’d been working along side Lumet, Frankenheimer, Friedkin, and Penn in the late ‘60s and ’70s. Though, that said, I get what you’re saying about his European-ness. His films don’t seem to get distributed or marketed properly.
I don’t think he’s underrated, I think he’s underseen. He’s a fantastic filmmaker, one of America’s best.
I think he’s underrated. Granted I’ve only seen “The Yards” and “We Own the Night” but I thought both were super fantastic. If he had made his movies in the 70’s then he would be a legend but the problem is that mainstream movies have changed a lot since that decade. I absolutely love his style but I can see why a lot of regular movie goers wouldn’t, which is probably why his films haven’t made a lot of money. Then again, “We Own the Night” wasn’t heavily promoted. Case in point, my parents had no idea that it even came out (to give you an idea about their tastes, they both liked “Fantastic 4” and “Ghost Rider”) but when I played it for them, they loved it. The types of films he makes are just hard ones to market, period, which I think explains why he’s not popular in the mainstream.
I hope this changes one day though. And I’m about to rent “Two Lovers” which I heard is absolutely fantastic.
yeah..no,thanks,another one-hit wonder dude….and after the much talked Two Lovers (which is a 2008 production by the way,arguably the worst film in Cannes festival last year next to Blindness and Changeling),i refuse to even watch the Yards….for now,hehe.
as for his “European-ness”….nope,he’s actually too “American” for my taste…
@Dimitris: “too American” for your taste, that kind of surprises me, I actually think he does America proud, considering the alternatives.
But I am glad to see that some appreciate his work, and I think Daniel hit the nail on the head when he says Gray is underseen. Hopefully. Lost City of Z will change that. I agree that his films are poorly marketed, and I have a suspicion that the Weinsteins screwed him on The Yards.
Ryan, let us know what you think about Two Lovers.
He is underseen, i thought LITTLE ODESSA was a terrific film. James Kahn said he was one of best directors he ever worked with. WE OWN THE NIGHT…. “a very good movie”, reminded me of LUMET’S PRINCE OF THE CITY.
Gray can squeeze the best out of actors. I don’t think I really took Phoenix or Paltrow all that seriously before Two Lovers. (I know they’ve both done good stuff, but they’ve never pulled me into the theater…)
Maybe Gray is a bit throwback. I couldn’t stop thinking of Dustin Hofman in Midnight Cowboy and Brando in On the Waterfront while watching Phoenix. I don’t see any reason that’s problematic.
I don’t know about European-ness. I feel like it’s all distinctly American. NYC figures so prominently in Gray’s work. In the way Antonioni makes setting a character.
“NYC figures so prominently in Gray’s work”
Yes, and Brighton Beach in particular.
I have only seen We Own the Night and while I thought some of the visuals were excellent the overall theme seemed pretty cliched to me. Perhaps it’s charms would grow on me if I say more of his films. Can anyone tell me what is special about this particular film?
I don’t see him being overlooked at all. There was just a recent thread about him on Two Lovers. He’s a great director (I love all of his films but Two Lovers is his best) but commercial success has eluded him. That’s fine but that’s a poor measure of whether someone is underrated or not. Like you say, European critics seem to dig him more than they do in US (even more so in France). If he’s under-appreciated here, I think it’s because his films are very classical (almost restrained and not very flashy by today’s standards). Besides, since the The Lost City of Z is Brad Pitt’s project, it’s almost certainly to be his commercial breakthrough. That said, Gray seems like the absolutely wrong director for that film.
I don’t believe that he is overlooked simply because his films don’t make tons of money, I think he is under appreciated by American film critics by and large, mostly, like you say Ari, because his films are restrained. I think Peter Travers referred to him as “defiantly un-hip” or something like that.
We Own the Night is cliched, but I think it emerges as something better, mainly due to the relationship between the brothers. I mean, the movie ends with the two brothers professing their love for each other, which is uncommon in American cinema.
Lost City of Z is interesting to me, because Gray seems like an out of left field choice for director. He does seem all wrong for it, which is why I think it is something to anticipate.
Two Lovers is one of the best films this year, second best American film at least.
James Gray is one of the best directors working today. Is he an auteur? I think so. When I found out this site I’ve tried to put his name on my favorite auteurs and his name wasn’t listed. I got really upset. I don’t know if now we are capable of adding him up. In 1996 I watched for the first time LITTLE ODESSA and was blown away by it. I couldn’t take the movie out of my head for days. I kept asking myself how someone so young could do such a mature film. THE YARDS is a good movie and you can see that Gray is constructing his own style much on the vain of great auteurs from the 70’s like the ones Matt Parks cited above. WE OWN THE NIGHT is great. The first few minutes is a masterpiece in giving the tone and the visual of the film. That car chasing under the rain is absolutely fantastic. One of the best car chase in the history of cinema hands down. Looking forward to see TWO LOVERS. I think anything he puts his hands on will be of great quality.
Boy, I’m glad to see some appreciation for Gray. I’m happy with these responses.
@Mike Spence: To me what is special about “We Own the Night” is the very fact that it is a movie that seems to have been plucked right out of the 70’s and made in 2008. Now, granted that may not be special to everyone, especially if you’re wanting to see a modern or updated take on the 70’s police movies. For me, “We Own the Night” is exactly what I wanted, pure old school filmmaking with an old school story. It was as if Sony magically found a Sidney Lumet police movie that was made in the 70’s that was thought to be lost and they are going to debut it in 2008. It is very much a genre movie and wears its influences on it’s sleeve.
Personally, I thought he added a lot of nice touches to it to make it fresh. As previously mentioned the car chase scene in the rain was awesome! The opening scene was prefect, immediately pulling you in and establishing the tone for the rest of the film. The scene where they plant the wire on him and he goes into that drug lord’s house to try out the coke? My god, that was one of the most tense scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. I’m pretty sure my heart was beating faster during that scene…and that NEVER happens.
If you were expecting to see some radical new take on cop/crime movies that would bring the genre to a new level and create a new standard of cop movies then no, this is not the movie for you. It is not trying to do that at all. It’s a visit to past through and through and doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. And in a time where the America public wants everything “NEW! NEW! NEW! Shiny! Gotta have the latest and greatest!” I can see why it didn’t immediately catch on here. And I think it is interesting/telling that he has more of a following in Europe than here.
@Ryan Estabrooks: Oh man …well done. Kudos to you to remember that scene at the drug’s lord house. I almost had a heart attack the first time saw it. It’s unbeliavable how Gray can capture the intensity of the moment and throw in the face of the viewer. I felt inside that place.
I thought the car chase scene was well shot and the performances were pretty solid. I remember liking his dierction but thinking the script was rather weak and it didn’t really earn the sense of redemption it was going for at the end. The level of enthusiasm for his work here is enough for me to give it another chance someday when I can watch a few of his films in a row and maybe get a better sense of what people see in him. I find that immersing myself in a filmmaker’s work can open up some films for me.
Yes, I would recommend taking a second look at his work. I think it tends to grow on people. And yes, the drug house scene is perfect, I almost had a heart attack too! It felt 100% extremely real and I just kept going “oh shit! oh shit! oh shit!” over and over and then BOOM! the scene just explodes! I felt like I was Joaquin right there, like I was fighting for my life simply by just watching the movie. Truly inspiring stuff
The action scenes in We Own the Night are out of this world, and they really sneak up on you. I think it is a very well paced film, and I plan on watching it again really soon. I think I may watch The Yards again just to listen to the commentary between Gray and Steven Soderbergh.
Ryan, did you get a chance to watch Two Lovers yet?
Something else I wanted to point out about his films is the locations that he chooses. I’m not from New York, but so many movies set in New York make sure to show you every major landmark so that you know they filmed some in New York. Gray, who is a New Yorker, knows the city, and comes up with interesting locations that you don’t see in every other field. I’m thinking of that final chase through that field in We Own the Night, and it just all seems fresh to me, refreshing as well.
“I have only seen We Own the Night and while I thought some of the visuals were excellent the overall theme seemed pretty cliched to me. Perhaps it’s charms would grow on me if I say more of his films. Can anyone tell me what is special about this particular film?”
In addition to the atmospherics and fine performances, for me, what sets Gray apart from many other American films is sincerity and intensity, in all too short supply in other Hollywood productions these days.
James Gray = cinema.
One crucial aspect that hasn’t been mentioned here is Gray’s seemingly obsessive attention to sound design, which I think is what allows WE OWN THE NIGHT to repeatedly transcend its preposterous plotting (especially in those two action sequences). It takes a certain kind of noir hack to regularly enlist Skywalker Sound.
I’ve now read THE LOST CITY OF Z and anticipate that the ensuing FITZCARRALDO-esque production nightmare plus the usual painstakingly-immersive sonic tapestry can basically only lead to the purest of movie magic.
Happened to see Two Lovers this morning. A very good film with great performances by the cast – particularly Joaquin Phoenix (maybe his very best), Gwyneth Paltrow, and Vinessa Shaw.
James Gray is without a doubt one of the best directors ALIVE!
ALL OF HIS FILMS HAVE BEEN GREAT
Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night, Two Lovers
The Yards is perhaps is magnum opus
Little Odessa is also great
I hated how We Own the Night was marketed, it was marketed like the departed’s brother when it is nothing like the Departed, Just cause Markie Mark was playing a cop…. In fact We Own The Night is better than The Departed.
If your a fan of We Own The Night you should check out two movies the first is an obscure Robert Duvall movie that I managed to tape of TCM when they aired it during a month spotlighting Puerto Ricans or something like that. The film is called Badge 373 its a great gritty cop movie. It’s a gem. Very racist even against my own people but I STILL LIKE IT! = toward the middle of it i was laughing at.
its stereotyping but I still found it to be a great gritty cop movie.
Why is it important toward We Own the Night, well for starters the movie openings with the cops busting a nightclub (its a salsa joint)
Duvall is playing a tough as nails cops…hes actually playing Popeye Doyle of French Connection fame and the real life Popeye Doyle is in the movie as his like only friend….
Another movie to watch is Downtown 81 which is a film that follows the artist Jean Michel Basquait around NY. Its a gem. The musical performances at the end are great. One in particular is mirrored in We Own The Night. He even gets the same dude although i noticed his age.
In saying everything I’ve said about We Own The Night believe or not its James Gray’s weakest film and THATS saying A LOT because its such a great fucking movie but when you compare to his current oeuvre it is. The Yards is his best movie followed by Little Odessa followed by Two Lovers then We Own the Night. Dont get me wrong I LOVE WE OWN THE NIGHT, but i feel it was James Gray telling everyone I can make a semi studio film compelte with action scenes, but i just had a problem believe Joaquin would be allowed to join the NYPD, given his characters circumstance but I still liked the movie.
I cant wait to see his new movie he is doing with Brad Pitt. Its called the Lost City Of Z. For me its exciting because James is stepping out of the crime drama films he estbalished himself on and his broading himself. I CANT WAIT! I have been a huge fan of his work FOR A LONG TIME ever since Little Odessa! I am so happy to see him gain fans.
Two Lovers was amazing!
Gray is a very good director, one of the best of his generation. His best film, my opinion, is Two Lovers.
But, one of the most impressive scenes that I have seen has to be the car chase through the rain in We Own the Night. From sound, directing, editing, acting, all was done to perfection. The film played a bit too slow when I saw it. But I dont mind films that play slow. Eternity and a Day comes to mind, and I find that film to be flawless. Maybe I should see We Own the Night again. Hopefully appreciate it more the second time around.
I have to admit that before I had read this thread, I had no intention of seeing We Own the Night, which movie’s marketing would suggest is just a cliched crime genre but certainly doesn’t seem to be now. Now I’m a lot more interested in checking out this Gray guy.
Please check him out PolarisDIB.
I recommend starting with either Little Odessa or The Yards (first tier)
then check out We Own The Night and Two Lovers. (second tier)
I agree with the idea of the thread: Gray is seriously underrated.
But I disagree with the statement that his films “are all a bit problematic and melodramatic”.
In my humble opinion he is one of the great contemporary American directors, and in the same league as Mann, Malick, Gallo, or Shyamalan, which for me makes him the equal (and maybe better) to Scorsese, Coppola and the likes. ;-)