Sometimes everybody means so well, they completely forget that they’re doing nothing useful, and One Thousand Times Good Night is a movie about people like that, made by people like that. It’s well-acted and every now and then looks almost as good as it wants to, but that just made it more annoying. It’s a movie which wanted its audience to leave the cinema feeling furious about the injustice of the world but it just left me feeling furious about how little the movie or anyone in it was doing to address that injustice. Sure, I haven’t cured cancer this week, let alone ended world hunger or brought piece to the universe, but at least I know that I haven’t done any of that; it’s not like I think that I can talk about the problems and then sit down exhausted as though I’d somehow solved them and deserve a nice lie down and a pampering session.
Juliette Binoche is playing a photographer, who we’re told is the best war photographer ever. You should never have to tell the audience in a movie that someone is the best visual anything ever. It’s a visual medium; you’re literally never going to have a better opportunity to show us that someone is a great photographer. But instead all the side characters keep leaning towards the audience and telling us how great she is. She’s so great that she has to neglect her family and ruin her life, because without her pictures of how awful the world is, we wouldn’t know, and things would just be terrible.
There are two moments which made me want to go and kick a few people; one small, and one big. The small one is when Nicolai Coster-Waldau’s marine biologist explains to a bunch of kids that the Irish Sea is full of Plutonium and that it’s terrible because it never changes or goes away. Plutonium is terrible because it does change and go away; while it’s a handsomely poisonous heavy metal like most heavy metals, the real wallop comes from the fact that it’s slowly changing into another element and releasing huge amounts of radiation while it’s doing it. And any scientist who actually cared about radioactive pollution would know that. But a script-writer and actor who thought that the character should have a job which showed he cared about big issues - well, they obviously didn’t know about it and didn’t care either.
The big one is the big emotional pay-off at the end of the movie. Juliette’s neglecting her two young daughters, which is making them about as happy as you’d figure. Then she gets a commission to photograph a refugee camp at the same time that her older daughter is doing a school project on Africa. So she brings the daughter, and it all gets slightly threatening without anyone getting hurt. Once they’re back, the hazard turns into a vast family row and the final collapse of the family, all of which makes perfect sense. The stinker comes when Juliette sneaks in to see her daughter do a presentation at school about the trip; and the presentation is all about how her mother has to go and take these pictures because poor Africans need her more than her family does. And that’s OK with her daughter now. So Juliette’s the good guy after all.
And I’m sitting there with my jaw tangled up in the gum under my seat thinking "what the actual …. ?” We saw about twenty people getting capped in that camp, and they hadn’t been having much fun before the shooting started. Those terrible lives were a problem which needed solving, and that problem barely got a mention; all that mattered was that Juliette got to have her cake and eat it.
It’s actually a pretty good movie about two parents having a huge row because a horrible job is making everyone unhappy; Binoche, Coster-Waldau and the two kids playing the children are great. As a family drama it rings true, especially Coster-Waldau, who was effortlessly charismatic and convincing as someone who’s been living in Ireland long enough to blend in. It’s just that as the issues film it wanted to be, it’s complete bollocks, rich people moping about stuff they’re doing nothing to fix while they wallow in comfort that the rich people they really are have completely forgotten is luxury beyond the reach of just about everyone watching the movie.
The characters live in that part of Wicklow near Dollymount, in a house bigger than my neighbourhood. Juliette must be the bestest war photographer EVAR, because there’s no way that a marine biologist is pulling in enough money to pay for that house, two cars and private schools for two kids (especially a marine biologist who’s got such family friendly hours that he can drop the kids to and from school every day and still get to work - what - twenty miles? probably more - away.
It’s not an issues movie, no matter what it thinks. It’s The Hurt Locker for chicks who want to have it all.