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AWAKE
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Reviewed by: Dave Murray

Directed by: Joby Harold

Starring:
Hayden Christensen
Jessica Alba
Terrence Howard
Lena Olin

Movie:  
star star star star
Extras:  
star star star star
Overall:  
star star star star
What's it about
Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen) has it all for such a young age: a successful company, a huge bank account, and a gorgeous fiance (Jessica Alba). But he also has a bad heart, and when he finally goes under the knife for a transplant, he experiences a rare phenomenon known as "anesthetic awareness". He can't move or speak, he can't tell reality from fantasy, but he can hear everything and feel pain! And he just happens to overhear a plot to kill him while on the operating table. Talk about a bad day.
Is it good movie?
Director Joby Harold has taken what could have been a boring and by the numbers thriller, forgettable except for the stellar cast, and turned it into a tense and polished character study of a successful yet flawed young man, the treachery that threatens him, a fascinating medical phenomenon and a testament to a mother's love. Now, that's quite a lot to cram into one movie, but Awake does it with style, a refreshing absence of tedious exposition (allowing the audience to actually make leaps of logic themselves while subtly giving up clues), and they even throw in a little out-of-body spirit fun that makes some other recently themed movies seem like the weak sauce that they really are (um, the filmmaking travesty of The Invisible anyone?). As a director, I'm impressed with Harold's work. He fills each frame with both atmosphere and substance, augmenting the action in the script with a visual story that stands out. The film subtly switches tones and moods, from the stark glare of the operating room, to the warm and comfortable tones of Clay's memories, and finally to the frenetic pace of Clay's panic. It is a very finely made movie.

Where it suffers, however, is in the actual script. After doing some research, and watching the featurettes on the DVD, this movie seems to show a fictionalized version of the real "anesthetic awareness" phenomenon. In real life, it is experienced more along the lines of vague awareness and sensations, and only very rarely as being lucidly awake. Here, Clay experiences it in an almost perfectly awake state, calling up memories of his past to ignore the pain of open heart surgery. Later on, Clay leaves his body, and embarks on a journey almost like Swayze did in Ghost, learning of the plot against his life and trying to stop it. In this respect, his out-of-body experience is mixed with memories and other carefully cut secrets, and in this way it excels over the above mentioned 90 minute music video (David Goyer should stick to directing other people's scripts). There is no angst, no over wrought emotion. Just a tense thriller/mystery that quickly becomes a convoluted revenge plot. The problem here is that in some places it is too predictable, which makes some of the film's more interesting twists lose their impact. But the ending, where Clay's mother (played by the awesome Lena Olin), who up until this point we are led to believe is a manipulative bitch, makes the ultimate sacrifice for her son, shows us the true meaning of the film. Family is the most important force in our lives, and Clay's mother becomes the most noble and complex character in the film.

As for acting, the players do their parts well in most cases. I've never really been a fan of Christensen, but here he gives a believable performance that actually didn't annoy me into drinking. Good job! He manages to carry the movie, and it is clear that he has made some leaps creatively and expressively as an actor. Alba is as usual gorgeous and almost too sweet to watch, but when she turns on her evil bitch switch, we get another reminder of what a great actress she actually is. I love how, even though she is a blockbuster star now, she still goes for these small and offbeat supporting roles. She's kind of like Brad Pitt (anyone who remembers him as Floyd from Kalifornia knows what I mean). Talented and versatile, she adds equal elements of sweetness and malice to the movie. Terrence Howard does a passable job as the surgeon and best friend with a hidden agenda, and again, Lena Olin is her incomparable self. The rest of the cast fill out the movie well, helping to add more layers to the plot, even when it is at it's thinnest, and they all do their best to round out this interesting character study. And ultimately that's what this movie is about. It's not about scares or gore. It's all about one man's journey through his past and present, and his desperate fight to survive when the ones who are supposedly saving him, and loving him, are trying to do him in. It's a good story, a good looking movie, and I recommend it, especially if you just want to be entertained and not hit over the head or kicked in the face by a movie.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen - 1.78:1.

Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1) and subtitles in English and Spanish.
The Extras
There is an Audio Commentary by Harold, which is worth the listen if you're into commentaries. He offers up some of his inspirations for the story and reflections on the cast and crew that pulled this one together. There are also a handfull of Deleted Scenes, which honestly didn't add much more to the story, but I liked the extended Christmas sequence from Clay's childhood. Chilling stuff. A short featurette Under The Knife and Behind The Camera is interesting if only for the remarks from the film's medical consultant, and an explanation of the real phenomenon fictionalized in the movie. Finally, we have the Trailer and a Storyboard to Film Comparison, which is a great but routine look at the creative process behind the visual look of the film. Pretty standard fare here, but there are some interesting tidbits in the features that are worth checking out.
Last Call
There's not much here for horror fans, as there is very little blood and even less scares. But for thriller fans, or for anyone interested in a well made mystery/revenge thriller, this movie is an entertaining way to kill some time. There's nothing too profound on hand here, but it is fun to watch. Some of the other stories of this phenomenon that I've read are actually much scarier. But I did like Christensen's voice over, and the performances were fine for what the movie needed. It had an interesting premise, despite some weak and predictable moments, and it was beautifully shot with talent and mood. Definately check it out. It is one of the better made flicks of this type, and it shouldn't be missed, especially for some of the performances. And I just dig the whole mood of the picture, which made it a fun and intriguing watch that I probably never would have looked twice at if it wasn't as stylish as hell. And well, its got Jessica Alba. Enough said. She even got me to watch the Fantastic Four sequel, and that was a stretch!
ARROW IN THE HEAD'S RATING SYSTEM
star star star star I'D BUTCHER MY FAMILY TO SEE THIS AGAIN
star star star HANG ME BUT I DUG IT A LOT
star star AN OK WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS
star JUST SLING AN ARROW IN MY HEAD AND LET ME DIE IN PEACE

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