R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Joby Harold
with Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin, Christopher McDonald, Fisher Stevens, Arliss Howard, Sam Robards, Georgina Chapman, Denis O'Hare, Charlie Hewson, Steven Hinkle
release US 30.Nov.07, UK 4.Apr.08
07/US Weinstein 1h24
The happy couple: Christensen and Alba

christensen alba howard
Awake What begins as an intriguing examination of a disturbing medical experience quickly turns into a formulaic and ludicrous thriller. Even the subtle performances can't bring it back to earth.

Clay (Christensen) is a Wall Street whiz-kid who suffers from a bad heart. He's been in a secret relationship with Sam (Alba) for a year now, afraid to tell his protective mother (Olin). As he and his heart surgeon Jack (Terrence Howard) wait for a transplant organ to become available, Jack urges Clay to follow his, erm, heart with Sam. But during surgery, Clay experiences "anaesthetic awareness"--he's awake but completely paralysed. And a conversation he overhears through the pain requires him to solve his own murder before it happens.

Up to a point, this film just about works. The set-up is intriguing, with nice performances from the cast and a few clever twists that keep us on our toes, including an opening scene that gives away the ending. Or does it? Then the early moments on the operating table are utterly harrowing--a solid filmmaker taking us through a horrific odyssey. Until the overwrought plot kicks in, that is. And once the convolutions start, the film loses all sense of logic or control, rattling and clanking until it stalls completely at the end, worn out by the silliness of its own narrative excesses.

In some ways, it feels like poor Clay is undergoing some sort of bonkers hypnotherapy, as he has an out-of-body experience that turns him into a private eye seeking the truth about his own life and death. But it's so over-the-top that it's impossible to take seriously, especially when characters start shifting from emotive heroes to snarling villains and back again. All of this manic melodrama feels strangely false after the relatively natural opening sequences, in which we meet the loved-up couple and navigate the wrinkles of their life together.

In other words, writer-director Harold could have made a thoroughly involving dramatic thriller out of this premise, but instead drifts into something so completely uninteresting that we can hardly wait to get out of the cinema. Fortunately, the film is quite short, so unlike Clay's grisly ordeal, we don't have long to wait until we can escape.

cert 15 themes, language, strong grisliness 7.Feb.08

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2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall