Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Erik Poppe
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Nicolaj Waldau-Coster, Lauryn Canny, Larry Mullins jr.
We’ve seen a number of films about photographers documenting war zones and atrocities, including Under Fire, featuring Nick Nolte, and Catherine Keener in War Story, but A Thousand Times Good Night is one of the few that also considers the emotional toll the job takes.
Rebecca (played by Juliette Binoche) is a war photographer, and is normally a passive observer of events, watching some horrific things unfold through the lens of her camera. She is obsessed with getting the best pictures possible. When we first met her she is in Afghanistan, filming the ritual preparations of a suicide bomber as she washes herself and prepares for her mission. Rebecca is somehow complicit in the carnage that ensues when the woman detonates her bomb in a crowded market place. She is injured in the blast, but despite that she is anxious to return to work. But there is no doubting her courage as she also manages to capture numerous other atrocities in some dirty, far flung countries.
Rebecca is offered an assignment to photograph a refugee camp in Kenya, a place that is supposedly safe, so she takes her oldest daughter Steph (Lauryn Canny) along as she is studying Africa in school. But soon the peaceful camp is invaded by heavily armed rebels and a massacre ensues, which Rebecca captures on film. Danger is an addiction to Rebecca, but she sometimes seems unaware of the risks she is taking to get those photographs that have given her a formidable reputation.
Rebecca’s marine biologist husband Marcus (Games Of Thrones‘ Nicolaj Waldau-Coster) fears for her safety every time she leaves on one of her missions, and eventually she acquiesces to his wishes and quits her profession. But Rebecca eventually finds domestic life at home somewhat dull. As a result of what she witnessed in Kenya, Steph has begun to withdraw into her own world, which brings some element of conflict into her domestic life.
Norwegian director Erik Poppe is himself an award winning former conflict photographer, so he obviously knows this world quite well. He is aware of the morality and danger of the war photographer, and he presents this in visceral fashion, and he doesn’t flinch away from depicting some of the horrors of war. There are many semi-autobiographical touches to the film, but Poppe has changed the gender roles around to add a different dynamic to the material.
The screenplay from Poppe and regular collaborator Harald Rosenlow-Eeg is at times a little tonally uneven, and becomes melodramatic, heavy handed and predictable. A Thousand Times Goodnight does have some superb moments of tension and drama, especially in the first half when we get to see the dangers she faces in trying to record the horrific truth of many conflicts and bloody civil wars. But the pace slows and the film becomes a little bogged down and vaguely unsatisfying when exploring Rebecca’s life back home and her troubled relationship with her two daughters.
Binoche delivers a strong and emotionally layered performance as Rebecca, who is torn between the job she loves despite its obvious risks and her role and duty as a mother. And there are times when she projects a certain vulnerability. Her performance never hits a flase note. Waldau-Coster plays the more sympathetic character here as the essentially decent and caring Marcus, and he is very good in an underdeveloped role. Making her film debut here, Canny is also excellent as Steph, whose conflicting view of her mother leads to some tense moments. The cast also includes U2 drummer Larry Mullins jr in a small role.
The film is visually quite stunning, thanks to some gorgeous widescreen cinematography from regular collaborator John Christen Rosenlund.