Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
there is no one who does good.
Marat Bujayev (Moni Moshonov) and his nephew Vadim (Alex Veadov) are two such “fools,” but they are very dangerous fools, being Russian emigres said to control the drug trade in Brooklyn in 1988. Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) manages Marat’s Club Caribe, a night spot so popular with the young crowd that there always are lines waiting to be admitted to its noisy, packed interior. Bobby loves the recognition and camaraderie that comes with being the host, and is excited when Marat agrees to his plan to move across the river and set up a new spot in Manhattan. That Vadim uses the club as his operating center for the drug trade is something Bobby ignores. Indeed, he has covered up, by such means as changing his name, his ties with the other side of the law: Deputy Chief Burt Grusinsky (Robert Duvall) and Captain Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg) are his father and brother, something that could endanger his life were his employers to learn of it.
The cops are well aware of Bobby’s connections, so they seek his cooperation in their coming campaign to destroy the drug gang. Bobby refuses, and is very upset when Joseph and Burt raid the club in order to turn up the heat on the mobsters. This leads to some tragic results, and to Bobby’s having to make two agonizing decisions that will prove to be very costly to those whom he loves, especially to his girl friend, Puerto Rican beauty Amada (Eva Mendes), who loves him more than we are led to believe at the beginning of the film. (We first see her engaged in mutual masturbation with Bobby—this is not a family film!)
The plot of two brothers on the opposites of the law has been worked a lot (see Martin Scorcese’s The Departed), but this is still a compelling film. The title comes from the slogan of the New York police in the 1980s, painted on the sides of their squad cars and woven into their patches. As we see in this story, it was a promise that they could not always keep.
Note: A spoiler at the end.
1) How are Russians becoming the villains of choice by Hollywood filmmakers? (That is, what other films have you seen in which they figure?) How does this reveal our society’s views or stereotypes? How have Arabs and Italians served in this way in the past, and even business men and lawyers?
2) Compare the way that the police are portrayed in this film with those in American Gangster. How is the latter a more pessimistic view (and it’s based on actual incidents)?
3) What effect does Bobby’s decisions have on those whom he loves? How does this show that our decisions involve not only ourselves, but others as well?
4) What is it that drives Bobby toward his decision during the climactic shoot-out? What do you think of his going after Vadim into the burning field? Was this a quest for justice or for vengeance? What danger do you see in a policeman using his position in the way that he does? Do you think that he is placing himself above the law? Compare what he does with that of the policeman in another film that deals with vengeance in far greater depth, The Brave One.