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New Release Review - A Thousand Times Good Night

A war photographer's obsession with her career puts her family life at risk.

Directed by: Erik Poppe
Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Juliette Binoche, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Larry Mullen Jr, Lauryn Canny




Conflict photographer Rebecca (Binoche) is embedded with a terrorist cell in Afghanistan, documenting the process leading up to the detonation of a suicide bomb by a young Muslim woman. When the bomb is set off earlier than expected, Rebecca is injured in the resulting explosion and becomes hospitalised for a time. Returning home to Ireland, she finds her relationship with her husband Marcus (Coster-Waldau) and her two daughters becoming increasingly strained as they plead with her not to return to Afghanistan. Rebecca must decide which she values more: her family or her career.
It's a struggle to recall a movie as wildly misjudged and hypocritical as Norwegian director Erik Poppe's study of a career obsessed war photographer. The film opens on a highly contentious note, with its protagonist Rebecca, through inaction, becoming complicit in the murder of scores of civilians in a crowded Afghan market. Yet this moment is brushed under the carpet and barely referred to throughout the remainder of the film. Aside from the occasional flashback, Rebecca seems ignorant of her part in the mass killing, justifying her actions, or rather lack thereof, by claiming "I photograph what I see". This isn't a case of a wildlife photographer allowing a lioness to feed on a gazelle in order to document nature in the raw. Rebecca has coldly become an accomplice to an act of terrorism and mass murder, all for the sake of a good story. She makes Chuck Tatum, the manipulative newspaper man played by Kirk Douglas in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, seem like a bastion of responsible journalism. Whereas Wilder knew Tatum was a scumbag, Poppe seems to think Rebecca is a victim of circumstance.
As soon as Rebecca leaves her hospital bed, the film morphs into a domestic drama, and a rather trite and cliched one at that. Her role in an incident of mass murder is forgotten about until the film's hypocritical climax when Rebecca finally suffers an improbable attack of guilt. Oddly, despite her story being published in a prominent New York publication, Rebecca's role in the incident is never investigated by any authorities. The longer the movie runs, the more baffled you become as to why she hasn't received a visit from the CIA. It's the biggest plothole in a movie whose plot contradicts itself several times.
In one of the movie's many crudely written and preachy monologues, Rebecca moans to her daughter about how the world media pays more attention to Paris Hilton than to the many crises in Africa. But this is a movie whose non-white characters never get a line of dialogue and essentially amount to props. While Afghans and Kenyans are killed by the dozen in the background, the film asks us to focus our energy on worrying about whether a middle class white European woman can resolve her family issues. The hypocrisy won't be lost on the viewer, even if it clearly is on the film-makers.
3/10


Eric Hillis

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