Compelling in its gut-wrenching portrayal of conflict, A Thousand Times Good Night is a solid film buoyed by an assured and powerful central performance.
A Thousand Times Good Night
War of the Worlds by Dave O’Flanagan
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Exposing the horrors of conflict through the lens of a camera, A Thousand Times Good Night is a powerful examination of passion, love and belonging. Based loosely on director Erik Poppe’s time as a war photographer, the film exposes us to moments of gut-wrenching conflict that feel both personal and refreshingly unique. It is perhaps testament to the visceral potency of these scenes that the more emotional family drama at the centre of the film feels under-cooked and unbelievable at times. But Binoche is quietly powerful in a role that requires varying degrees of subtlety; managing to exude frailty and loneliness under a hardened shell of fearless ambition.
While covering a separatist group’s preparations for a suicide bombing in Kabul, war photographer Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is nearly killed when she gets dangerously close to the story. Returning home to Ireland, she desperately attempts to reconcile her love for a family living in a permanent state of fear and uncertainty with the innate passion she has for her profession. Given an almost impossible ultimatum by her husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Rebecca is forced to chose one life over another.
Shards of light plough through a dark and bullet riddled van interior as Rebecca is driven to a secret location. The darkened van not only highlights the perils of photojournalism, but is also potentially symbolic for her struggle to maintain a marriage and a family in the looming shadow of death’s door. Blindfolded and apprehensive, Binoche subtly injects a palpable sense of unease as she arrives at her destination to discover a young woman being buried alive before being strapped and readied for a suicide bombing. From the darkness of the van to the greys of the separatist hideout, the contrast between light and dark early on is a perfectly poetic and apt opening to a film which explores both sides of Rebecca’s unbridled passion.
While Rebecca’s inward struggle feels instantly relatable and organic, her relationship with husband Marcus is never quite convincing enough. The biggest issue from a narrative standpoint is that without a precursor for this central relationship (and how good it may have been), it’s difficult to sympathise with its decline to any great extent. It’s admirable and refreshing that Poppe sidesteps the cliché ‘best of times’ couple flashbacks, but in the absence of which, there isn’t a discernable chemistry between Binoche and Coster-Waldau to make them a convincing couple. Whether it’s this dearth of chemistry or poor scripting, it’s unfortunate that an actor of Coster-Waldau’s talent feels miscast. The casting of Lauryn Canny as Rebecca’s daughter Steph on the other hand is inspired. Apart from a terribly forced conversation between mother and daughter on the Republic of Congo, their scenes together pack real emotional punch and their interactions nimbly illustrate Rebecca’s inner conflict between her desire to be a mother and the compulsion she feels to charge into the face of danger as a photojournalist.
Much like its tortured protagonist, A Thousand Times Good Night is a film that ultimately falls between two stools. While it features a powerful and heartfelt central performance from Binoche – as well as an eye-catching turn from newcomer Lauryn Canny – it often feels at odds with its uneven narrative. It’s a thought-provoking reversal of the traditional patriarchal family – casting Marcus as the ‘long suffering partner’ traditionally reserved for a woman. It raises a compelling question as to whether Rebecca’s ‘behaviour’ would be viewed any differently if she was a man. Torn between her innate instinct for humanitarianism and her desire to feel like a part of her own family, the final shot is both devastating and damning of her seemingly impossible situation.
A Thousand Times Good Night is released on 2nd May 2014 in the UK