You have to admire a film that explains very clearly what it wants to say in a short amount of time, with a clear eye and practically no doubt. Such are the first 20 minutes of Norwegian director Erik Poppe's A Thousand Times Good Night: a war photographer is led somewhere in a desert and witnesses the final preparations of a suicide bomber about to head out on her lethal mission. That both the are women is a significant matter.
That's where the film that we think A Thousand Time Good Night is going to be ends, and that's where it loses our admiration. After the bomb goes off early and Rebecca is unexpectedly injured, Mr. Poppe follows her back to her picture-postcard perfect life in rural Ireland, and the film falls prey to a tasteful, well-meaning rehash of first-world moral problems.
The convalescing photographer is faced with a choice, between a job that she clings on to like a profession of faith and a moral compass in a world gone haywire and a family she hardly ever sees and somehow resents her for not being around enough. There's undoubtedly a good film to be made from this theme, and the Norwegian director, himself a former war zone photographer, hedges his bets by casting Juliette Binoche as Rebecca. The French actress' frightening intelligence and commitment is visible in every single frame, as the divided Rebecca questions motives and allegiances and, faced with the ever-changing landscape of the modern press, asks if it's worth continuing to sacrifice herself and her family.
But this is yet another case of Ms. Binoche's attraction to meaty roles in films that end up beneath her talents; Mr. Poppe is unable to put into her mouth anything other than well-meaning platitudes that articulate these issues in warmed-over soundbites, and relies far too much on melodramatic tropes and conventions that reek of predictability from the get-go. Very much like his heroine who is most herself when at work, the director seems much more at ease in the heat of the action, in the three separate occasions when Rebecca is "on location", and doesn't quite know where to go when she's home - which, unfortunately, is most of the picture. A Thousand Times Good Night is tasteful issue cinema - too tasteful by half, lacking the vibrancy and guts it needed to work.
TUSEN GANGER GOD NATT
Norway, Sweden, Ireland 2013
Cast Juliette Binoche, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Larry Mullen Jr., Mads Ousdal, Lauryn Canny, Adrianna Cramer Curtis
Director Erik Poppe; screenwriter Harald Rosenløw Eeg; from a story by Mr. Poppe and Mr. Rosenløw Eeg; cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund (colour, widescreen); composer Armand Amar; designer Eleanor Wood; costumes Judith Williams; editor Sofia Lindgren; producers Stein B. Kvae and Finn Gjerdrum; production companies Paradox in co-production with Zentropa International Sweden, Newgrange Pictures and Film i Vast
Screened February 13th 2015, Lisbon