03 October 2010
Boy, I remember when this came out in 2007 and I read just the first paragraph of Roger Ebert's review which advised, "Do not believe anything you hear about Awake, do not talk to anyone about it, and above all do not even glance at the poster or ads, which criminally reveal a crucial plot twist." And so I closed the browser, I avoided posters and trailers, and I promised myself I'd see the movie. I missed it in theaters, then I forgot about it on DVD. It crawled so slowly up my Netflix queue that when it arrived, I'd forgotten at first what it was -- only that it starred Hayden Christensen and I was supposed to avoid any spoilers.
And so finally, about three years later, I sit and watch the film, remembering that maybe it's a little scary -- I know the movie's about surgery and anaesthesia and the film is called Awake and so... put two and two together. Anyway, I hope it will kickstart me toward writing. I'm prepared for twists that will ruin the movie. I can at least say the spoilers remained unspoiled (there's a much prettier poster of the movie I wanted to use for this entry, but to my shock the overly long tagline right there on the movie poster spoils the final twist in a series of twists). But what I wasn't prepared for was how god-awful amateur bad this movie is.
The story is okay, and the premise (without twists) should actually be enough to make me squirm in abject terror. From an opening crawl of text you know that the story is about a man who is rendered paralyzed but otherwise is perfectly alert, awake, and sensate during a heart transplant operation. Yes, they saw open Anakin Skywalker and clamp open his chest and he can feel every moment of it, but cannot move or act. That should be goddamn fucking terrifying. The performances are so flat and even-keel that it only registers as slightly squeamish. The twenty minutes of preposterous writing and acting that precede the actual surgery don't help. Zero thought was given to what the life of a young billionaire might be like. Too much effort was put into weird areas. For example, as far as I can tell, his megacorporation is swallowing up other companies at a rate or two or three a week, but we're supposed to like him because he keeps talking on the phone about all the jobs he's creating; but we're never actually given any real idea of what Clay wants or needs, aside from the fact that his fiancée wants him to tell his mother about her, and his mother seems to have some hold on him, only she really doesn't. Or something.
Anyway, the whole story is about Clay Beresford, Jr., who is laid out on an operating room table unable to act while feeling horrendous pain and hearing some things he'd rather not be hearing. Meanwhile he's the object of a tug-of-war between his hot young lover and his rich milfy mother, and in both relationships he struggles because he is unable to act. As the story goes and the mysteries and situations get more complicated, as bad people reveal themselves and their motives become known, all of the drama unfolds while our protagonist is laid out, unable to act.
Honestly, I have to say, it's a no-brainer why this script doesn't work. It's the world's most passive protagonist, by definition. It makes for an interesting challenge, at least, to tell this story with nothing but deadweight at its center (and poor Hayden Christensen, I keep wanting him to do another role on par with Shattered Glass, but this was definitely not it; he's as much deadweight as an actor as Clay is deadweight as a character). But if you ask me, Joby Harold doesn't get us there. I liked the wandering out-of-body bits and the structure was interesting (despite the überpassive protag) but nothing in the script rings true, not the relationships, the medical details, the procedure, the motivation for the schemes or the schemes themselves. Each heightened emotion clocks in way too low and forced, and for all of the nice photography it never really felt in aid of anything, just pretty.
I know Ebert gushes about the film, and it's not even that I disagree with his points so much as, I couldn't overlook what he overlooked. The movie lost me from the beginning and then just trudged along, one eyerolling scene after another, never rising above. I'll admit I didn't see the twists coming, so that's something, but a story still need strong characters and(/or) a sharply focused theme or throughline to string all those twists on.
If I don't care which direction things are going, why am I going to care if you take me for a sudden right-angle turn?