ReelTalk Movie Reviews  

New Reviews
Jurassic World Domini...
Jazz Fest: A New Orle...
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue ...
more movies...
New Features
Poet Laureate of the Movies
Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks
Score Season #71
more features...
ReelTalk Home Page
Contact Us
Advertise on ReelTalk

Listen to Movie Addict Headquarters on internet talk radio Add to iTunes

Buy a copy of Confessions of a Movie Addict

Main Page Movies Features Log In/Manage

Rate This Movie
 Above AverageAbove AverageAbove AverageAbove Average
 Below AverageBelow Average
Rated 2.97 stars
by 346 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Urban Jungle
by Adam Hakari

When it comes to the American public, even casual movie fans who recognize Akira Kurosawa's name have probably seen only a fraction of this legendary Japanese filmmaker's work, with those movies tending to be samurai sagas like Rashomon and Yojimbo. I was in this position for several years myself, so it was a complete shock to jump from from Kurosawa's period adventures to The Bad Sleep Well, an unabashed attack on the sort of corporate culture that's very much alive and well today. But considering Kurosawa's nearly sterling track record, what's not surprising is the great job he does of taking a simple story and weaving it into a most absorbing human tragedy.

Times are not good for both Dairyu Construction and the Public Corporation. Rumors of rigged project biddings, massive kickbacks, and other shady business dealings are starting to leak out, the press clamoring over news of every new arrest or a board member's sudden suicide. But the most important figure behind both companies' gradual downfall is the person anyone would least suspect, a quiet young man by the name of Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune). Having married the daughter of the Public Corporation's vice president (Masayuki Mori), Nishi's allegiances lie anywhere but with his new father-in-law's organization. This unassuming corporate drone is actually the mastermind behind a plot to expose the companies' shared corruption bit by subtle bit. Nishi's motives for this grand scheme have something to do with a company man's suicide five years prior...

If you view The Bad Sleep Well solely as a pseudo-noirish mystery, then you're going to come up quite short. You don't have to be the most astute person in the world to figure out Nishi's connection to the suicide (especially since even the bare-bones blurb on the back of the Criterion DVD box gives it away), but this isn't what the film is all about. The meat and potatoes of The Bad Sleep Well comes from juxtaposing Nishi's ruthless quest for revenge with the equally unmerciful ways by which his targets stay in business. Just as the businessmen keep a stone face amid police questioning and do a nimble dance to avoid being persecuted, Nishi is just as dedicated to taking these corrupt figures down, going so far as to prevent a corporate underling (Kamatari Fujiwara) from killing himself and then using him to torment an executive by posing as a ghost.

Such vengeance comes with a price, and Nishi pays with his humanity. He's put in an especially tricky position when his marriage threatens to become more than a sham. Moral conflict is the name of the game in The Bad Sleep Well, an angle played by Kurosawa  from the point of view of the haves as well as the have-nots, in an approach that further steeps the story in emotional complexity. The thrills may not stem from a truckload of chase scenes, but they're present  nevertheless, coming across as crisp and crackling -- thanks to the subtle, slow-burn intensity Kurosawa uses to transition into each new plot development. The only time he really messes up involves a surprisingly wordy climax in which the stage is apparently set for the denouement to take a certain direction, only to abruptly end on an appropriately dark but awkwardly-staged note. However, this is a mere quibble in light of the film's otherwise brimming intelligence, atmosphere, and deft directing, all pulled together by a rich cast headed by the great Mifune, trading in his katana for a Clark Kent get-up and executing a sharp performance as the dedicated Nishi.

The Bad Sleep Well appears not too far from the kind of film Park Chan-wook would make today. Although it doesn't have the violence and outright artistic touches of Oldboy or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, it shares a similar sense of spinning a tale of revenge while not painting the situation as a simple black-and-white, "good versus evil" struggle -- but instead plunking it smack down in the middle of a gray area that makes things all the more interesting.

MY RATING: *** 1/2 (out of ****)

(Released by Criterion; not rated by MPAA.)

Review also posted at .

© 2024 - ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Website designed by Dot Pitch Studios, LLC