Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs
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It feels like the resurgence of Russell Crowe is just around the corner. I have been saying that since “The Nice Guys”, so maybe I am wrong. Undeniably, he has entered this stage in his career where he does not have anything else to prove, and often he’s the best thing about whatever movie he’s doing. (He made “The Pope’s Exorcist” so much better than it would have been with anyone else playing that part, and can i hope they make five more ) It just boils down to some right filmmaker having faith in his natural talent. This was why Adam Cooper’s “Sleeping Dogs” attracted me; a film that seemed like Crowe’s “Memento,” a twisty noir that dabbles with memory, perception, and a very unreliable narrator. While other actors are giving away their dignity for acting in this snoozer of a movie, it is beginning to truly dawn on me now that this Oscar winner could turn into another direct-to-VOD star who only appears in bad cheapie thrillers (sorry Travolta fans) Crowe is too good for “Sleeping Dogs.” Most actors are.

“Sleeping Dogs”, based on The Book of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici begins when its protagonist is deep into dementia nightmare when she wakes up. Retired cop Roy Freeman (Crowe) has taped notes around his house reminding him not only of simple things like how to make toast but even his own name. Well obviously, this will be one of those films with a “plot-convenient illness,” which I think is especially manipulative regarding illness because it holds back the main character whenever the plot needs it or disappears when momentum needs building up again. Also being subjected to radical treatments involving brain surgery as well as constant medications because why not? The set-up allows an old-fashioned cop character get back into investigating a case he once closed as if he is doing it for the first time. Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows he will re-discover some things he forgot for a reason.

The reinvestigation begins with the imminent death row execution of Isaac Samuel (Pacharo Mzembe), who was found guilty of killing a professor and researcher named Dr Joseph Wieder (Marton Csokas) ten years prior. Samuel is definitely innocent – no film would be different – and flashbacks show that while Wieder was being killed, he was in fact there but did not witness his killer. Roy decides to look into it further, taking him back into the path of his ex-partner Jimmy Remis (Tommy Flanagan, trying to out-grizzle his co-star) who keeps telling him to let sleeping dogs lie. Get it? That’s the title of the movie.

By any means, Roy decides to re-open the case fully; for example starting with Richard Finn that was recently and suspiciously dead (played by Harry Greenwood), who wrote a sort of true crime memoir about the Wieder murder. Wieder’s partner Laura Baines (Karen Gillan) was research partners—and maybe more—with Finn, and she’s clearly one of the keys to what happened that night. Cooper’s film fractures into a long flashback of the weeks leading up to the crime through Finn’s eyes/voice, but we’re never quite sure how seriously we’re supposed to take it. It’s not just that writing that describes Laura as “one of those rare unicorns who knew everything about everything” can’t possibly be taken seriously but that Finn could be playing with the artistic license of his form or may not have all the facts himself.

A case being unpacked through a dead man’s writing as interpreted by a memory-depleted cop could make for interesting fiction on the page, but it’s incredibly difficult to parse in film language. The script by Cooper and Bill Collage consistently dips into incoherent plotting and inconsistent characters, and it feels like they think it’s fine to do so because there’s not a single reliable narrator in this mess. That’s understandable, but also leads to some scenes that play like utter nonsense, and too much that’s hit like a hammer on a nail. For example, Roy puts together a puzzle to keep his mind sharp, but also because he’s literally putting the puzzle of his memory and the case together. And then he talks about doing the puzzle in voiceover just in case you didn’t get it.

“Sleeping Dogs” is one kind of movie where someone supposedly smart explains repressed trauma discoveries as if they invented them psychologically. In most every scene people look lost or annoyed at nothing else. With Crowe grumbling his way through another film with deceptive ease, finding occasions to ground even a miserable film like this one. My hope is that “Sleeping Dogs” wakes him up, and that he remembers the actor he can still be.

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