Saturday 27 March 2021

Movie Review: A Thousand Times Good Night (2013)

The conflict between dangerous work and a loving family receives sober treatment in A Thousand Times Good Night, a drama benefitting from a venerable dilemma and a stellar Juliette Binoche performance.

Rebecca (Binoche) is a photojournalist covering the world's most dangerous conflicts. She gains exclusive access to photograph the preparations of a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, but gets too close and is injured in the blast. She returns home to Ireland to recover.

Rebecca has a husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and two daughters, teenager Steph (Lauryn Canny) and the younger Lisa. Marcus, a marine biologist, makes it clear he and the girls can no longer tolerate the stress of Rebecca's work. She agrees to quit traveling to danger zones and be more available as a mom. Through a school project about Africa, Steph starts to understand and appreciate her mother's work, and joins Rebecca on a seemingly safe assignment to a Kenyan refugee camp. But Rebecca's steely determination to seek and photograph injustice will not easily subside.

An independent Irish-Norwegian co-production, A Thousand Times Good Night carries pragmatism as a badge. Director Eric Poppe, working from a script by Harald Rosenløw Eeg, deploys just a few jarring scenes of conflict to light a fire under a familial drama, and then allows no easy answers. After a startling opening 15 minutes, the pacing becomes occasionally ponderous. But while tragic tension builds rapidly in advance of a bombing atrocity, Rebecca's family is on a slow burning edge, keenly aware any decision she makes carries painful and probably intolerable sacrifice.

Poppe knows the subject matter, having worked as a photographer covering a variety of conflicts. Here Rebecca's grim pursuit of images from the globe's hotspots comes from a place of rage and passion: she seeks to awaken the world's consciousness to injustice and suffering. She admits to acting on instinct, but may not fully acknowledge her craving for the adrenaline rush of running towards the danger everyone else is running away from.

A Thousand Times Good Night mostly settles down in Ireland to pick at intractable issues. Marcus is convinced Rebecca's job is incompatible with being a mother and a wife. The film never asks if the same applies to a man in the field and a woman closer to home, but the undercurrent is clear. Regardless, Rebecca does not disagree and knows she is missing out on her daughters' growth, Steph in particular craving her mother's attention as she blossoms.

But staying home is misery for a woman like Rebecca, and everyone knows it. The mother-daughter Kenya trip appears to offer an outlet, but takes a turn that only exposes the truth. Ironically the dangers to the family surface not in the refugee camp, but back home in Ireland.

In an unwavering performance, Binoche is magnetic, using the slightest expressions to reveal the tensions within a conflicted woman. Equally impressive is Lauryn Canny in her film debut as Steph, delivering the pouty performance of a moody teenager traversing the line between child and adult. 

A Thousand Times Good Night finds a poignant moment of revelation in the bland setting of a high school parking lot: Rebecca, Steph and a camera come face to face to face, the mechanical lens unstoppable as mother and daughter succumb to their humanity.

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