Sunday, January 06, 2008

Supporting Actress Blogathon: Eva Mendes in We Own The Night

This is a part of StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Blogathon. Last year I wrote about Vera Farmiga in Running Scared, which is now my favourite performance of last year. I'm not sure this post will have quite the same effect, but it's people like Eva Mendes who need to be raved about, and I'm gonna be the one to do it.

As We Own the Night opens to the iconic pounding bass of Blondie's 'Heart of Glass' the picture is clear. The swanky-surfaced party era of a thriving New York club scene, full of sex, drugs and rock n' roll. The former of these familiar taboos occurs but a scene into the film, with a sprawled Eva Mendes showing more than a little nipple -- and what lovely nipples they are too, even if I'm not inclined that way (well, they didn't intimidate me) -- in a raunchy scene with boyfriend and club owner Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix). Mendes' character, Amada Juarez, instantly feels dependent; not just upon sex and affection, but money and power. She looks every inch the trophy wife, if a little more reserved and unsure of herself than past trophy wives of cinema (I'm thinking Sharon Stone in Casino), though much of that derives from that she's a Puerto Rican ethnic minority, which even in the 80's must have brought with it a degree of caution.

Much has been said about the familiar, baity wronged wife role, complete with teary scenes and admirable values, usually regarding loyalty and family. Amada is loyal, no doubt, but you can see her inner struggle between trophy wife and homegirl. Although Phoenix is more the pretender than the showman she finds herself lodged in circles and situations that feel visibly alien to her. Most notably when she attends a gathering with Bobby's brother and father -- an awkward exchange. Most films are keen to integrate their 'wronged woman' in a way of getting at their precious leading man, and his moral arc. Mendes has more than one opportunity to play her character this way, and, though she can vent her wrath with the best of them, never shies away from her own fragmented mess.

At one point in the film she defies her boyfriends' wishes, leaving her safe retreat to pay a precious visit to her mother. In some ways she is blessed, because the film seems keen to give her some individuality, but amidst an airstrike of family politics and exhilarating detective chase she still embeds herself in your mind as the true dilemna of the film. The outsider looking into a world she knows little about. Considering how much she feels like a limpet on Phoenix's stolid shell in the first part of the film her motivation and independence in the second half feels like a revelation. It's a tall ask to match such players as Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix, but for what this performance is, it may just be the film's truest.


Kayleigh said...

Hey, great post. I loved the film and Eva's performance. I wasn't a massive fan of her before the film but she did such a great job.

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