A character study in search of a story.
I’ve long held the belief that films don’t need to tell a complete story, that sometimes–sometimes–a simple meditation on a theme or character can be enough. But often the most well-considered character studies don’t translate to the screen. 1,000 Times Good Night does just that: it’s an intimate, if incomplete, portrait of how a person’s passion consumes his or her family. It’s wonderfully acted and shot, but the film feels like it’s missing an integral piece that would’ve made it more than “not bad.”
Juliette Binoche (Three Colors: Blue) plays Rebecca, a photojournalist who specializes in covering difficult stories in the most violent parts of the world. After nearly dying in a suicide bombing attack, Rebecca returns home to Ireland recover with her family. Her husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones) is at his wit’s end–Rebecca’s constant danger-baiting has made him realize that she might value her work more than she values him or her children.
Director Erik Poppe (Hawaii, Oslo), who also co-wrote the film, takes his time exploring Rebecca’s post-trauma frame of mind. It’s made clear that Rebecca’s work as a photographer is important; it’s featured on the covers of major international newspapers, and her ability to slip into sticky situations has drawn attention to situations that need to be in the spotlight. But devoting yourself to your work with that kind of intensity comes with a cost. Binoche is absolutely fantastic as Rebecca, and she gives her character an impressive amount of depth. The screenplay does a good job at looking at how Rebecca’s career has become all-consuming, to the point where she can’t even see how it’s smothering her husband or daughters. Her oldest child, impressively played by relative newcomer Lauryn Canny, is at a dangerous turning point–she’s starting to discover her passions, but she’s also at a perfect age to be negatively influenced by the friction between her parents. The acting is top notch here, and the film also has some nice supporting parts for Maria Doyle Kennedy (Orphan Black) and Larry Mullen, Jr., better known as U2’s drummer. They aren’t on the screen much, but they make the best of their time.
But while 1,000 Times Good Night nails the internal drama, it feels unfinished when following through as a two-hour movie. As the film peters out in its final third, I had a hard time pinning what exactly went wrong. I think part of it has to do with how underwritten Marcus is. Coster-Waldau is great with the limited material he’s given, but the character doesn’t feel complete. The film is also hurt by where the film ultimately takes Rebecca’s story, which feels incomplete as well. It’s not that it’s ambiguous–I think ambiguous would’ve been better here, really. It’s just weirdly on-the-nose and lacks any of the restraint the film revelled in earlier. It’s frustrating, and marrs a movie that has so many other things going for it.
Film Movement’s release of 1,000 Times Good Night is as equally high-quality as their other releases. The film’s 2.35:1 widescreen presentation looks fantastic, even for standard definition. The film has a nice, naturally hued tone that comes to life in the hands of cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund (A Bothersome Man). The image is generally sharp, and detail is especially good in the film’s frequent close-ups. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is fairly good, with some a couple of nice use of channel spread (after an explosion early in the movie, for instance). There are a handful of extras: a rough “Behind the Scenes” segment (8:10); and around 33 minutes of interviews with Poppe, Binoche, Canny, and Coster-Waldau.
1,000 Times Good Night isn’t much of a story, but as a character study it gets along just fine. I still wish there was more here.