Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Awake - Review by Carmody Wilson

Director: Joby Harold
Screenwriter: Joby Harold
Running Time: 84 mins
Certificate: 15
Out Now

I really wished I’d been asleep. Awake centres around Clay Beresford, (Hayden Christiansen), a wealthy philanthropist who has hidden his engagement to regular gal Sam (Jessica Alba) from his mother, Lilith (Lena Olin). But Clay is no ordinary millionaire –poor guy has a heart defect and is on a transplant list. Mom Lilith insists on using her swanky heart doctor, who shouts “ I write textbooks on this procedure!!” but good old Clay, who is repeatedly heard speaking to his business associates about “creating jobs”, is much more keen on his public health system doctor and personal friend, Jack Harper (Terence Howard). This turns out to be his fatal-but is it?-mistake. Clay, when rushed in for his surgery, finds that he is not subject to the soothing oblivion of the anaesthetic, but is in fact, fully awake and aware of what is happening to him. Now many may comment on the anaesthetic-like effect of Christiansen’s acting-the monotone huskiness of his emotionless voice, the promise of his eyes that is never delivered in the rest of his expressions, the overall shittiness of everything he says- and wish that they themselves were at the helm of this botched surgery and were about to fall upon young Hayden with saws, scalpels and scissors. But alas, this film is not a revenge fantasy for Star Wars, (George Lucas would have to be helplessly bound on the next gurney over,) or Factory Girl, or Jumper, or Shattered Glass, or Life as a House, but a vaguely empathetic thriller about the dangers of inappropriate trust.

Dr Jack Harper, it seems, is not so benign and friendly and may be in league with darker forces to end the life of everybody’s favourite job creator. So while Clay’s anaesthetic awareness is not intentional, it does help the beleaguered employer of hundreds figure out the plot against him. It’s all so complex and twisty! Meanwhile, back in the waiting room, anxious Lilith and fraught Sam are forced to bond as the news comes back that poor Clay’s transplant went wrong, and he is now heartless and kept alive by a pump. Lilith takes desperate action to save her son’s life, and the film drifts farther and farther into the realm of the unreal. Awake desperately pulls at all the stops with plot turns and surprise twists, but the events are too inconceivable and ridiculously overwrought to be enjoyable. The leap from wiling suspension of disbelief into “Oh no this is going to just get stupider and stupider” can be traced to the operating room when the director decided that hearing Hayden Christensen’s thoughts was not enough and we needed to see him as well, and so as Clay’s “awareness”, leaps off the table and runs amok through the hospital, shouting mutely at his tormentors. If only he were as invisible to us. There’s a point where Lilith, meeting with Clay in a strange in-between world of the not-quite-dead actually, and without irony, tells him that she has always had a strong heart, whilst puffing away on a cigarette. While she was at it she could have stabbed herself in the chest, opened her ribcage with a crowbar and poured bleach all over the organ…but that would have made the film too self-aware. It is blissfully ignorant of its own laughability and takes itself too seriously, which is its, ahem, fatal flaw. There are a lot of hearts floating around in this movie, but it’s more Straw than Tin Man.

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