Directed by Erik Poppe
Starring Juliette Binoche, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lauryn Canny
It’s hard to fathom how a film about a driven photojournalist wrestling with balancing their dangerous job with the demands and desires associated with their family life can come across as boring, but director Erik Poppe, himself a former conflict photojournalist, somehow pulls it off. This Irish-Norwegian co-production should be an engaging, heartfelt and challenging piece on the role of journalism in war and the sacrifices correspondents must make or, at least, be prepared to make. Instead, it’s a dreary domestic drama.
French icon Juliette Binoche is journalist Rebecca who, after being injured in the line of duty, returns to her home and family in Ireland. Her marine biologist husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is sick of the endless emotional strain her job places on the family, as are her two daughters, and so Rebecca resolves to refrain from venturing into danger any more. However, the lure of her profession is never far away.
A Thousand Times Good Night starts with a bravura opening sequence in which Rebecca photographs the preparations of a young, female suicide bomber in Kabul. Incredibly tense and almost completely free of dialogue, it’s a fantastic piece of filmmaking that builds to an almost unbearable level of dread and foreboding.
After that, though, we’re into a leaden scenario where beautiful, wealthy people mope around their picturesque, semi-rural home, talking circumspectly about their points of difference while never giving us, as viewers, much of interest to latch onto. A midpoint sequence where Rebecca takes her eldest daughter, Steph (Lauryn Canny) on an expedition to a Kenyan refugee camp injects some colour and life, as well as providing some fuel for the second half of the plot, but it’s all to little effect.
The problem is that Poppe’s film has little to say about its subject. Rebecca’s motives in pursuing her dangerous career are poorly explored, save for some lip service to her being motivated by anger. Similarly, her relationship with her husband is lightly sketched. For sure, this is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in full-on sensitive hunk mode, but we get little sense of how or why these two people came together, or why – children apart – they should remain so. Poppe chooses to foreground Rebecca’s relationships rather than her work, an approach that could have been novel, but in execution it’s hard to justify why.
Although the cast do good work and the film is handsomely shot and competently assembled, A Thousand Times Good Night fails to connect in any meaningful way. A weak film about a worthy subject, it combines timidity of opinion with self-importance, resulting in an eminently forgettable cinematic experience. Skip it.