Awake


Awake

Hayden Christensen gets wheeled in for a charisma transplant.

(MGM/Weinstein) Hayden Christenson, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin, Fisher Stevens, Georgina Chapman, Sam Robards, Arliss Howard, Christopher McDonald. Directed by Joby Harold

Consciousness can be a funny thing. We can sleepwalk through life, unaware of the things going on right in front of our faces. Conversely, sometimes we are never more aware of what is going on around us than when we are asleep.

Clay Beresford (Christenson) has everything to live for. He’s a billionaire, having inherited his father’s business and making his own mark upon it. He has a beautiful girlfriend named Samantha Lockwood (Alba) and he hangs out with his friend and physician Dr. Jack Harper (Terrence Howard).

But all isn’t 100% rosy for Clay as indeed it is not for anyone. Clay has a congenital heart defect that has led to a massive heart attack; as a matter of fact, the only reason he is still slapping shoe leather upon this Earth is the intervention of Dr. Harper, who saved his life on the operating table – a pretty compelling basis for a close friendship, wouldn’t you say?

Clay is on the waiting list for a heart transplant, and while he waits he ponders. His girlfriend is the personal assistant of his mother (Olin), and the relationship between them has been kept carefully hidden from la madre who has Clay firmly under her thumb; in fact, he still lives at home. Clay also has definite daddy issues, having to do with his father’s untimely death but also from Clay’s latent self-doubts that as a man he will never measure up to dear old dad.

Mom, for her part, wants the family physician (Arliss Howard), a brilliant cardiovascular surgeon who is on the short list for the next surgeon general’s opening, to perform the procedure but Clay is adamant and loyal to his friend.

At Dr. Harper’s urging and Samantha’s own nudging, Clay decides to marry her impulsively and soon after the ceremony, a heart becomes available. Straight from the ceremony, Clay and Dr. Harper (his best man) run to the hospital. Clay is prepped and made ready for the surgery which is a risky one, so after a touching “see you later” to his new wife, Clay is wheeled into the surgery where they find out that the anesthesiologist originally assigned to the team isn’t available; there is a spare one (McDonald) around however and so the surgery is set to take place as Clay is put under.

Or is he? Clay realizes soon enough that he is wide-awake and paralyzed; he can see, hear and feel every single thing happening to him. This phenomenon apparently does happen in real life, albeit rarely. As Clay suffers through the life-saving surgery, he becomes aware that his awareness isn’t the only thing that is going wrong with the surgery.

This movie got a very cursory release and was pretty much ignored during the slew of holiday releases in 2008. It also got appalling reviews, and quite frankly the marketing of the movie was utterly mismanaged.

That’s a shame because this is quite a good little film. The surgery sequence begins about halfway through the movie and takes place in real time thereafter. Director Harold deftly handles the suspenseful elements and wisely chooses not to make this a horror movie but a suspense thriller instead; on that level it succeeds solidly.

Christensen has yet to prove himself as a leading man in my eyes but his work here is a slight improvement. Unfortunately, I don’t think that he works as the benevolent corporate moneylender; he’s a little on the young side for a role like this. Of course, then the “young romance” that with Samantha doesn’t work if the character is older. It’s a bit of a catch-22.

Alba is a beautiful enough actress and she has shown that she is a capable actress in certain roles, but from time to time she also performs unevenly and this unfortunately is one of the latter occasions. The character needs to have a lot of depth to it but there’s no connection, no organic flow so she comes off as schizophrenic. That makes it tough to have a whole lot of empathy for her.

Lena Olin has always been an actress that I’ve felt hasn’t received the props she has deserved in a career that is now twenty years-plus. She gives a very nuanced performance here as the mom and in many ways I think she might have been better in the role of the wife.

This is a taut, professionally made movie that comes at you unexpectedly. I found I liked it better 20 minutes after I finished watching it.  While some of the operating room theatrics were a bit unbelievable, the movie still works on many levels and is an unexpected pleasure. If you’re in the mood for a little suspense, you could certainly do much worse than this underappreciated film.

WHY RENT THIS: A squirm-inducing premise that happens in real life more often than you’d think. Howard is a consistently good performer who doesn’t disappoint here and Olin is a much underrated talent.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Christenson and Alba aren’t as convincing in their roles as I might have liked. Some of the plot points are a little too unrealistic.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the surgical scenes may be a bit too graphic for the tastes of the sensitive; there are some minor language, drug and sexuality concerns as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The role of Clay Beresford was originally cast for Jared Leto..

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Last House on the Left (2009)