That Good Night
Seemingly inspired by Dylan Thomas’s poem Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night, Eric Styles’s new film is intended to be a thoughtful meditation on the mortality of a retired writer (John Hurt in his last leading role). While this idea could have been ripe with rich character studies and moral quandaries, unfortunately That Good Night plays everything far too safe in order to please the more mature audience it’s aimed at for it to be considered anything more than forgettable fluff, and is now forever destined to be an anticlimactic footnote to the legacy of a legendary performer.
The feature is more like something you could expect to see on a lifetime movie channel: its high levels of melodrama are almost comedic, and so too is the characters’ ability to instantaneously change their emotions to suit the script. For instance, a scene could begin with Hurt’s protagonist (Ralph) along with his son (Max Brown) engaging in a somewhat meaningful heart-to-heart, before breaking into a full-scale argument over the most insignificant detail. Perhaps this could be chalked up to an attempt to convey these men as stubborn and volatile, but with no other defining characteristics other than being highly successful and wealthy, each character is essentially a lifeless vessel in which to carry the plot.
The filmmaking, too, helps to reinforce the monotonous and dry tone of the piece. Although the scenic Algarve provides beautiful panoramic vistas for establishing shots, both the pacing and editing are so slow that it feels more like we’re enjoying the scenery from a prolonged traffic jam. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a film taking its time, but when all it has to offer are static shot-reverse-shot compositions and unnecessary sequences to prolong the runtime, the view gets boring, fast. Nor does it help that the movie’s musical score sounds suspiciously like that of Pixar’s Up, which only serves as a reminder of a much more affecting feature that we could be watching instead.
If there’s any reason to go to the cinema, it’s to watch Hurt’s final performance, which proves his wry humour and grace remained with him until the end. This could also be read as a metanarrative of Hurt himself: an artist contemplating his own mortality during the final days of his life. In this sense, That Good Night is an apt farewell to the actor. But aside from seeing the last on-screen appearance of a cinematic icon, there’s no other reason to possibly recommend this picture.
That Good Night is released in select cinemas on 11th May 2018.
Watch the trailer for That Good Night here: