THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Directed by Ole Bornedal
“Have you ever been killed before?”
America loves to recycle. We love to take old shit and make it new again. We love to bring something back that once worked just because we couldn’t think of anything better. We also love to steal other people’s shit and make it our own. Mostly from other countries. We love their food, culture, fashion, cars, and we usually forget to give original country credit. This is especially true when it comes to movies.
The collective we (Hollywood and all of us dumb consumers) love to take what worked somewhere else, tweak it, and slap an Americanization label to it. That makes it ours. Why watch something that once stood out for being original or unique when we can dumb it down and add more explosions? (However, I never understand why foreign directors are hired to remake their own films. Seems…repetitive and unnecessary.) Sometimes it has worked out. Other times…not so much. However, in the case of 1997's Nightwatch, I actually find it an effectively moody translation. It seems to have kept many of its foreign sensibilities in style and substance. It's dark and demented, and best of all it doesn’t reek of the Americanization label.
While the story isn’t wholly original (a killer on the loose, a frame up, dead hookers), sometimes a quality, no, a badass cast can make a movie. Ewan McGregor, Josh Brolin, Patricia Arquette, Brad Dourif (Chucky!), and Nick Nolte. Hell, even an uncredited John C Reilly shows up in a few scenes as a bland detective (he looks pretty bored with the thing, but it’s still John C). It's like a who's who event movie and no one schedule the event (because no one saw this movie). McGregor is perfectly cast here. At the time (only a year after Trainspotting), he still appeared in that delinquent man boy transition phase. He always looked young, yet always looked like he wanted to be older.
Anyway, here he plays Martin, a law student who takes a job as a security guard at a morgue…during… the nightwatch! Dun dun dun. Immediately, the tone is set as Martin gets the grand tour of his new job by the veteran old school guard. The old man fills Martin’s head with fear and panic of what could happen around all these dead people. They put the keys in the freezer with all the stiffs. He even says there's an alarm that alerts if one of the dead gets out of bed for coffee. In other words, tension is built without any real supernatural threat because we panic with Martin, sharing his fear of the dead during his entire shift. It creates paranoia and a darkness without having to do much.
Then there’s Josh Brolin, who was still honing he skills as a great jerk. I’m sure dude is a nice guy, but he can play the arrogant asshole with the best of them. One scene in particular stands out where he torments a hooker in a restaurant, slipping her money to humiliate herself. $20 for drinking a glass of whiskey. $150 if she says I love you and convinces him of it. He’s the dark character and too obviously is set up to become the number one suspect as a serial killer who likes to make prostitutes pretend to be dead, and then makes them dead. Regardless, even if he hadn't made his mark yet, it was clear he was about to.
Then again, everyone in the movie seems like a suspect. Everyone has their creep union card. They’ve all been around the dead a little too much, a little too comfortable with nude corpses chilling everywhere. But that’s what makes the movie un-Hollywood. There’s no redeemable characters here. They all have baggage. They’re all disturbed in the worst kind of way. None of them are very likable. It’s refreshing.
Lastly, there’s the great Nicolas Nolte, who delivers the best line in the film: “Have you ever been killed before?” God I miss Nolte. He owned the screen in every film, shitty or not. He has a presence that hasn’t been replaced. Here, his character has the depth of a thin crust pizza, but so what, Nolte makes it his own and makes the movie. I know he's probably too old and too drunk to make a comeback, but it's nice to revisit what used to be. I’m sure there are better foreign remakes out there. I don’t doubt it. But Nightwatch deserves a second look, or for many of you out there, a first viewing.