Director James Gray posits two distinctly different brothers – Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) and Bobby Grusinsky (Joaquin Phoenix) – as the central characters in this crime thriller. Joseph and Bobby inhabit two conflicting worlds in late 1980s New York, the former becoming a cop and the latter running a nightclub. Bobby spends his evenings in a den of iniquity, indulging in drugs, alcohol, and gambling, with his model-like girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes) who is never far from his arm. Their two worlds meet when the father of the two men, Burt (Robert Duvall), who is also a cop, gets together with Joseph to ask Bobby for information about a patron of the club named Vadim (Alex Veadov). Vadim is the nephew of the club’s owner, and also a dangerous member of the Russian criminal underworld. Bobby sides with Vadim, and the tension in Gray’s brother-versus-brother potboiler reaches melting point as Joseph goes after both his sibling and his Russian foe.
In this atmospheric thriller where grit is employed instead of glitz, Wahlberg, Phoenix, and Duvall all deliver high-caliber performances throughout, and Gray suffuses the plot with enough twists and turns to provide a few surprises. New York City is perfectly utilized as a backdrop to the action, and cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asay manages to get the balance between moody, atmospheric shots and explosive action sequences just right. This is ultimately resembles an old-fashioned cop film with a little Scorsese-like drama thrown in for good measure, and is likely to gain a following among movie fans seeking retro crime thrills.