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Review: 1,000 Times Good Night (2014)

1,000 Times Good Night (2014)

Directed by: Erik Poppe

Premise: A photojournalist (Juliette Binoche) is nearly killed while documenting a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. She returns to Ireland to recuperate with her family but tensions between the photographer and her husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) threaten their marriage. 

What Works: Stories about parents torn between their family and their career are usually resolved easily, with the parent eventually coming to his or her senses and redoubling their commitment to the family. At its most basic level, 1,000 Times Good Night is that kind of story but the film has a whole lot more going on and it complicates that family-versus-career conflict. Juliette Binoche plays a photojournalist who generates provocative work for major media outlets by traveling to dangerous parts of the world and documenting outrages and atrocities but when she photographs a suicide bomber and is nearly killed in the process, Binoche’s character must heal herself both physically and mentally. She rejoins her family, including her husband played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and her daughters played by Lauryn Canny and Adrianna Cramer Curtis and discovers that they are not able to understand her experiences. As the husband, Coster-Waldau’s character wants his wife to quit her job or take less dangerous work because the trauma of waiting for bad news is too much to bear while their daughters carry on with their comfortable first world lives and don’t understand what their mother has gone through. 1,000 Times Good Night is primarily a domestic drama and tensions between work and family are presented with nuance and complexity. Unlike a lot of movies with similar conflicts, the mother’s job has life and death consequences and so letting go of the work is not so easy. In fact, given the things she is documenting, it may be appropriate for her family to take a back seat and that becomes a part of the interesting relationship between the mother and the older daughter, played by Lauryn Canny. As the daughter begins to learn about what her mother does, their distant relationship gets closer with the mother eventually taking her daughter into the field on what is supposed to be a safe job. When a visit to an African refugee camp goes bad, the repercussions threaten her marriage. This crisis also reveals how deeply the mother depends upon her work to give her life meaning in a way that being a spouse or a mother can never equal. That makes 1,000 Times Good Night not just a movie about post-traumatic stress or the responsibility of media but also a portrayal of the struggles of contemporary family life.

What Doesn’t: 1,000 Times Good Night is a little slow in places. After an extraordinary opening, the setting switches to the home front and just as The Hurt Locker and American Sniper dramatized the experiences of troops struggling to transition to civilian life 1,000 Times Good Night is about the similar experience of a war reporter. The key difference is the proportion. Military films about this topic usually spend the bulk of their story in-country with domestic respites from combat. 1,000 Times Good Night flips those proportions and instead spends most of the picture focused on the experience of returning from a warzone. As a result a lot of 1,000 Times Good Night is nuanced and about the evolving relationship between the reporter and her family. That’s an appropriate approach to the subject matter but the movie’s touch is a little too light. The story would benefit from more definitive plot beats. The filmmakers set themselves up to conclude the film on an ambiguous note in which Binoche’s character may choose her work over her family. But the filmmakers walk it back in the very end and the movie finishes on a more reassuring resolution. It is a little disappointing to see the filmmakers resort to a cliché “love conquers all” ending especially since the rest of the film isn’t necessarily pointing in that direction.

DVD extras: Featurettes and interviews.

Bottom Line: 1,000 Times Good Night a well-crafted and carefully acted piece of drama. The movie challenges the way in which Hollywood films usually present work versus family conflicts while offering a compelling story of characters trying to hold a family together.

Episode: #540 (May 3, 2015)