A Thousand Times Good Night review: conflict and (high) resolution
A drama of conscience and passion, a finely observed portrait of a woman driven to make a difference in the world, even as it hurts those she loves.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’m desperate for movies about women doing interesting things; love Binoche and Coster-Waldau
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Somewhere in the Middle East. A Westerner — a woman — has been given access to some kind of ritual to document it photographically. At first it appears to be a funeral, perhaps, but no, that’s not it. What is going on here? We only start to begin to understand at the same moments that photojournalist Rebecca (Juliette Binoche: Cosmopolis) does what is actually going on, and then…oh my. The opening sequence of A Thousand Times Good Night is a gripping bit of cinema, one that kickstarts the questions of ethics that surround Rebecca’s life and work. She is a renowned journalist who focuses on covering conflict, which puts her in constant danger, and when she returns home to Ireland after her latest assignment and a very close brush with death, her husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: The Other Woman), is standoffish, though only out of fear and worry: he’s been “waiting for that call” that would tell him she’s dead, and thought this had been it. Their young daughter Lisa (Adrianna Cramer Curtis) is just happy to have mommy home, but teen Steph (Lauryn Canny) is more remote: she’s old enough to worry like dad does. Norwegian director and cowriter (with Harald Rosenløw-Eeg) Erik Poppe based this drama of conscience and passion on his own work as a war correspondent, but he also understands the unique pressures a woman doing the same dangerous work faces: even a man with children is unlikely to be seen as potentially abandoning his family for his work the way a mother is when she puts herself in harm’s way. Still, this is no overwrought melodrama but a finely observed portrait of a woman driven to make a difference in the world, and trying to explain to those she loves why what she does matters even if it might take her from them. In one wonderful scene, Rebecca talks to Steph about how angry she is all the time at the injustices that she documents, and how she harnesses that in her work; it’s not something we typically hear women in film discuss, and it is so, so necessary to hear. But the film succeeds in part by not depicting Rebecca as odd or unusual for being a woman in a hazardous line of work, and it never asks her to apologize for it or even justify it any more than a man might have to. Her gender isn’t irrelevant here, but it’s far from the pivot on which her story turns. This is the sort of film about women we need many more of.