The realm of real world medicine is rife with syndromes and conditions that would make a fantastic movie base. First time writer/director Joby Harold picked a doozy when he sat down to write the script for Awake. Think about this, just for a moment: you need to have major surgery, the surgical team preps you for the procedure, and you are wheeled into the operating room. The anesthesiologist gives you the drug cocktail that will get you on the path to sleepyland. As soon as you nod off, the surgeons begin their work, but something is wrong. While everyone thinks you are dead to the world, you retain consciousness and can hear and feel everything but are unable to move.
I don't know about you, but the very thought of being awake while my flesh is being sliced open and exposed to the world is absolutely frightening. Think about it — conscious, paralyzed, and completely out of control. This concept, called "anesthesia awareness," is at the heart of Awake.
Now, it should be noted that this phenomenon is not particularly common (the incidence ranges from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 15,000, depending on which studies you read). Many cases involve the victim remembering things, post-surgery, that happened during the surgery. However, the idea that something like this could happen at all is very frightening and, as I suspected, this was the scariest thing about Awake.
Hayden Christensen is Clay Beresford, a young man who seemingly has the world at his fingertips. He is rich, has a thriving business, and the love of a beautiful woman, Sam (Jessica Alba). This is not all he has; he also has a bum heart and has been waiting for one to come up on the transplant list, otherwise he is destined to die young. He also has an overprotective mother in Lilith (Lena Olin).
In the slow first act, we find Clay is resentful of his mother's level of involvement in his life. Sam is tired of having to hide their engagement. Lilith believes she is putting her son's best interest first even if he doesn't believe so. The final piece to the puzzle is malpractice magnet Dr. Jack Harper (Terrence Howard), a cardiologist who has befriended Clay and is his first choice to perform the transplant.
The next step involves the discovery of a suitable heart, and the onset of our anesthesia awareness. As revealed in the trailer, while under the influence of the paralyzing anesthetic, Clay hears that his surgeons plan on leaving him to die in exchange for a fat payday. The movie then shifts from being about the awareness to finding the truth behind what is going on, why they want him dead, and just how is he going to survive.
To reveal any more of the plot would ruin the surprises that you may already see coming and who am I to reveal the gymnastics that the script goes through to make sure that everything fits? And fit everything does, even if it is all a little too convenient.
I think my biggest problem is the way the story unfolds. Shortly after establishing the anesthesia awareness it gets dumped for something more akin to the out of body experience of The Invisible. This effectively throws out the cool medical concept. If that isn't bad enough, the final resolution doesn't even involve Christensen at all. How is that for a kicker? As far as the story goes, Christensen's actual involvement ends with his chest getting opened up.
Yes, the story is a letdown. However, there are moments mixed in that are very good. As the climax nears we get an interesting visual cueing impending death that is highly effective. Lena Olin steals the show as Lilith. Her performance is very strong as her motivations are slowly revealed and her character grows exponentially. She delivers so much more than I could have expected. She elevated her game, and by doing so elevated the game of everyone she shares the screen with. In particular, she has some good scenes with Jessica Alba, who gives glimpses of ability. Hayden Christensen, on the other hand, is as bland as ever. Granted, I think the character was supposed to be like this, but there is a difference between being purposefully flat and just having a bland persona and I am not sure that he knows the difference.
I wanted to like Awake, but it did have a lot of questions surrounding it. Following the Star Wars prequels, Hayden Christensen has not been a brightly burning Hollywood star, more known for wooden performances than anything else. Jessica Alba is a gorgeous young actress who has not shown considerable acting ability. Then there is writer/director Joby Harold making his big screen debut without any other credits to his name. It is a perfect storm swirling around the calm eye that contains the high concept, upon which all hinged. While the concept was there, and Lena Olin raised the overall quality, there is no denying that the closer we got to the finish, the more the plot began to crumble.
The brief 78 minute runtime is filled with pacing issues, too slow on the build-up and too fast as it steams towards its resolution. I get the feeling that there was a lot of footage left on the editing room floor, which furthers the idea that there will be some sort of unrated or extended cut come the DVD release.
Bottom line. No, I cannot recommend this movie, but I can recommend that you give it a shot when it arrives on DVD (which I would expect to be fairly soon), for Lena Olin's performance if nothing else. I still find the base concept to be frightening, the problem is the window dressing used to make it palatable as a thriller. It is a half-baked script that could have used a bit more development.Powered by Sidelines