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AWAKE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Lena Olin, Arliss Howard, Terrence Howard
Director:  Joby Harold
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  The Weinstein Company
Features:  See Review
Length:  84 Minutes
Release Date:  March 4, 2008

“The clock is ticking…”

Film ***

Apparently, one out of every 700 or so patients who go under general anesthesia remain in a state of awareness.  They can feel, they can hear, but they are held prisoner in their own body for the duration of the procedure.  The first time I was told about the existence of the phenomenon was right before I was about to go under for an operation of my own.  Yikes.

Well, I made it through without any horror.  The same can’t be said for Clay Beresford (Christensen), the subject of Joby Harold’s unusual medical thriller Awake.  He’s a rich young businessman with a bad heart in need of a transplant.  In his life, he’s secretly engaged to his one-time assistant Sam (Alba), and is afraid to tell his somewhat overpowering mother (Olin). 

He’s ready to have the surgery, but he insists on his friend, Dr. Jack Harper (Howard) as the man to do it, against his mother’s wishes of a more reputable doctor (Howard).  And, of course, Clay goes under the gas, but remains aware…a prospect as naturally terrifying as terrifying can get.  And ordinarily, here’s where I would cease the plot description, because the film offers surprises, twists and turns, but I suppose I can go one step further since the damned DVD cover gives one away:  he learns he’s NOT supposed to survive.

What can you do?  Awake but not alert, we follow Clay mostly in his mind, as he struggles to exhibit some sign of his consciousness and reach out to those who could save him from those who want him dead. 

The concept is familiar, but done in an original and unique setting.  How much of the movie will really surprise you may depend on how many thrillers you’ve seen.  I know some who were bowled over by Awake.  I wasn’t quite, but I blame myself.  I start looking for clues and trying to reason out what turns the story may take before they happen, so it’s nobody’s fault but mine when I disappoint myself by being right.

Of all the cast members, Lena Olin and Terrence Howard are the most effective.  Jessica Alba is beautiful, as always, but never quite elevated herself above scenery for me.  I suppose it's a testament to her that a film of this nature can be and has been described as "sexy".  If she were ever cast as a young Mother Theresa, I'd wager you'd hear the same thing said of that movie.

And Hayden Christensen…I don’t know what to think.  He got pounded mercilessly for his wooden performances in the Star Wars films, but fans gave him the benefit of the doubt because of the nature of the dialogue.  But here, he doesn’t fare much better.  And he has ample opportunity to let the material elevate his performance.  It works from time to time, but not enough.

Still, at less than an hour and a half, there’s a decent tightness to it all.  Joby Harold maintains a focus on the story he wants to tell, and does so mostly with a ruthless, effective precision.  One may argue about the semantics afterwards, but I dare say, you’ll be hooked for the short haul.

Video ***

A solid anamorphic transfer from the Weinsteins that showcase a good ratio of light to dark sequences.  There’s a touch of murkiness here and there, but nothing that would take you out of the moment.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is quite effective for what might be thought of as a dialogue-oriented movie.  Much of Clay’s state of mind lends to good use of the surrounds and subwoofer for ambience.

Features ***

There is a full length commentary from Joby Harold, who also lends option commentary to some deleted scenes.  There’s also a making-of featurette, storyboards, and a trailer.

Summary:

Awake is not a perfect thriller, but still a riveting one while it plays out in front of you.  At the very least, it won’t put you to sleep!

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