Film review: A THOUSAND TIMES GOODNIGHT, from Built For Speed

A Thousand Times Good Night explores the emotional toll wrought on families when career commitment becomes obsession.  Juliette Binoche plays Rebecca a highly respected war-zone photographer who has returned to her family in Ireland after narrowly avoiding death during a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.   Desperate to re-establish her family life with husband Marcus (Nikolai Coster-Waldau) and rapidly growing daughters Steph (Lauryn Canny) and (Adrianna Cramer Curtis) she decides to quit her highly dangerous profession.  Rebecca finds, however, that domestic life in provincial Ireland is hard to reconcile with horrors and injustices she has witnessed in the Middle East and is soon lured back to the world’s trouble spots.

This film’s mix of globally significant issues and intimate personal stories should have produced a riveting, thought-provoking drama but directorErik Poppe doesn’t quite realise the material’s potential. Having established the characters and Rebecca’s career versus family dilemma, the film repeats itself and keeps cycling through the same confrontations between Rebecca and Marcus.

The film does, however, contain some astonishing moments.  The opening sequence in which Rebecca photographs a female suicide bomber religiously preparing for an attack is tense and disturbing.  The film also features some powerful and confronting scenes of militia attacks in Kenya and tragic images from the Congolese war.  In addition, the film benefits from John Christian Rosenlund’s remarkable cinematography which vividly captures the vast empty spaces of Africa, the verdant landscapes of Ireland and the clutter of Middle Eastern market places.  The film’s striking images are given greater impact by Amand Amar’s evocative score.  At times, though, the film adopts a glossy, impressionistic and self-consciously arty visual style that seems more suited to a prestige car commercial than a gritty film about the horror of war and devastated families.

The film is held together by a remarkable performance from Binoche who disappears into the complex and perplexing character of Rebecca. Binoche effortlessly captures a range of conflicting emotions and motivations within Rebecca that raise intriguing and disturbing questions about her morality.  At times she appears to be a noble crusader who, with her confronting photos, is determined to enlighten the West about the tragedies of the third world.  At other times, though, she seems to be hooked on the thrill of battle – her camera like a surrogate rifle.   Also, despite her genuine concern for people whose lives have been destroyed by war she gleefully hovers over their bodies like a vulture to obtain her photos.  This duplicity extends to her emotional state as she seems superficially hardened by her experiences but beneath the surface is seriously traumatised.  The film may represent Norwegian director Erik Poppe’s attempts to exorcise his conflicting emotions having previously been a war photographer himself.

Given the focus on Binoche’s Rebecca the supporting cast tend to be cyphers although Lauryn Canny as the artistically talented teenage daughter Steph touchingly and perhaps disturbingly displays elements of her mother’s passionate nature.  The film also contains an odd piece of casting with U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr casually popping up as a family friend.

Given the limitations of its narrative, its grim subject matter and occasional slow pacing, this film will not satisfy all cinema-goers but for those willing to embrace it, A Thousand Times Good Night will provide an emotionally charged view of a damaged life and of a troubled world often hidden from us in the West.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Erik Poppe.

Release date: 27th Nov 2014

Running time: 111  mins.

Reviewer: NickGardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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