War-photographer drama 1,000 Times Good Night is given credibility by director Erik Poppe’s professional experience in that role for Reuters, and by the film’s location shooting: Pains were taken to film in Afghanistan as well as in a Kenyan border camp, and many combat zone photos are authentic. Its intentions thus impeccably buttressed, 1,000 Times Good Night still turns out to be a disappointingly standard-issue addiction melodrama, this one the tearful case study of an adrenaline junkie whose compulsion threatens to push her family and loved ones away.
Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is introduced on the job in Afghanistan, photographing a young woman getting rigged for a suicide bombing. She rides along to the detonation site, and attempts to warn bystanders, before the blast’s recoil sends her to the hospital. Back in her bucolic Ireland home, her concerned husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), tells Rebecca he can’t handle his constant worrying over her safety and intends to leave after she recovers. Rebecca decides to quit to save her marriage and family life, her resolve spurred by the discovery that her eldest daughter, Steph (Lauryn Canny), has been sketching her as a corpse. A tempting return to the field inevitably beckons when a supposedly safe assignment in Kenya is disrupted by gun-wielding men performing summary executions of refugees.
In a tentative stab at bonding, Rebecca tells her daughter she pursued her career because she was angry at the world and wanted to draw attention to atrocities, but the drawn-out domestic drama doesn’t meaningfully inform her combat experiences. Characterization is predictable and unimaginatively expressed, as in Rebecca’s confession: “I’m not good at this. At life. At being normal.” Ditto the impact of Rebecca’s photos when they bring in extra protection for the refugees, summarized when a colleague notes, “There’s power in pictures.” Will Rebecca choose the rush of the battlefield over her loved ones?
In combat/atrocity zones, Rebecca is repeatedly put in danger, but the film provides neither the guilty rush of violence nor the sobering kick of under-seen brutalities. 1,000 Times Good Night makes the bigger geopolitical picture as dull as the news from home, while straining ham-handedly to connect the two. At a crucial moment, Binoche attends her daughter’s presentation at a school event she almost missed by flying back to Afghanistan. This important moment of clarity hinges on a parent finally prioritizing a school event over her career, a simplistic form of apology most commonly seen in a family comedy. Binoche, predictably, gives it her all—the material is well within the actress’ wheelhouse as a Reporters Without Borders supporter—but her passion isn’t matched by the film.