James Gray's We Own the Night (2007) is showing October 6 – November 5 in the United Kingdom, and October 14 – November 12, 2018 in many countries around the world. Anaphora is an on-going series of video essays exploring the neglected films by major directors.
James Gray has got to be one of the most abnormal directors to ever wind up something of a cult figure, because ultimately he isn't making "cult" films. His defenders are passionate, his movies never win awards and the films that critics like don’t make any money. And yet what is he doing? Making the kind of movie that used to come out in American theaters once a month in the 1970s. Crime dramas, historical picaresques, doomed romances, movies about troubled people caught in a landslide of fate and bad luck. They'd be ordinary movies in a different time, but today they're special because no one else makes them. James Gray is basically the only director in America who makes films with so beautiful and persistent a glow of poisoned nostalgia, so intelligent a visual sense. His movies are beautiful, yes, in a very particular way that comes from a long line of Italian filmmakers and painters, but his gaze is complicated. Everything seductive comes with pitfalls. Everything is too good to be true and the easiest way is the most dangerous. We Own the Night is a film right out of the 70s, though it's set in the 80s, and it is a kind of experiment in transported technique and time. What if films like The Godfather or The Deer Hunter were still made in the late 80s, what would the world at that time look like in an abandoned visual language? We Own the Night had a muted response, was sold like a modern action movie, and is rarely talked about by people not already in the cult of James Gray, but there is still so much to talk about.