Nightwatch (1997)

*. This is one of those movies that I pulled from the shelf at random, not having heard anything about it. Something that, in itself, surprised me, as it has a standout cast and was a remake of a Danish film (Nattevagten, which I’m told means Nightwatch) by the original director, with Steven Soderbergh doing some re-writes. You’d think I would have been aware of it.
*. Well, it disappeared for a reason. It’s awful. The plot is so stupid I’m surprised it got made once, though I don’t know if director Ole Bornedal made something good out of it in the original. I think the only other Bornedal movie I’ve seen is The Possession, which came out some fifteen years later, and it was just as hackneyed as this.
*. A law student (Ewan McGregor) gets a job as a security guard working the night shift at a medical centre with a morgue in the basement. This despite the fact that he is nervous being alone. Meanwhile, a serial killer is going around killing women and cutting their eyes out. Believe it or not, this serial killer has a link to the morgue, being a bit of a necrophile. Then the serial killer starts to frame McGregor for the murders! Oh, the humanity.
*. You’d think such a preposterous plot would at least offer plenty of opportunities for suspenseful sequences and crazy twists, but the twists are even more strained than the rest of the story and while there are some nice stylistic touches there are no scary parts.
*. The serial killer stuff is clichéd to the point where it feels pressed out of a template. And despite a line-up of some of the most suspicious faces in Hollywood — Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Brad Dourif, and even John C. Reilly (uncredited) — it’s not that hard to figure out what’s going on. The real question is what McGregor’s character is doing hanging out with Brolin in the first place. Nobody else seems able to stand him.
*. What went wrong? Well, I don’t think they got off to a good start. Bornedal said of Nattevagten that it was not “a great work of art, but it did help legitimate the idea that even European film art can make good use of generic stories.” That’s not setting a high bar. But then when it came time for the Hollywood remake the wheels came off.
*. You can just listen to the people responsible in their own words. The film took over a year to finish because of negative test screenings leading to lots of reshoots. Soderbergh was writing new pages of script nearly a year after production began. Bornedal: “the actual shooting of Nightwatch was terrific, everything was totally wonderful, and I was free to do as I pleased, but everything suddenly became extremely complicated during the post-production phase.” Nolte: “As the studio got it, they realized that they had a European-paced film, and they kept hacking at it and hacking at it.” McGregor: “this was the perfect example of a film they would not leave alone. There were constant reshoots, including the ending, and they took all the interesting stuff out, making it bland. The original concept was the reason I accepted it in the first place. I had massive strands of the character removed, which is insulting.” He later added that Harvey Weinstein “ruined that film” and “made us reshoot everything — everything that was interesting about the film he replaced.”
*. So it seems nobody was happy with it. A trite script that still manages to be a rickety mess. A good cast (and I haven’t even mentioned Patricia Arquette) thrown to the dogs. A few moments of visual creativity lost in a dull shuffle. Let it return to oblivion.

13 thoughts on “Nightwatch (1997)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Always find is amazing that people like McGregor will say this about Weinstein, but then sign up for his next film even while accusing him of butchering the last. Maybe amazing isn’t the right word. Frustrating.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      I think it’s harder for actors to get decent work than we often imagine. I often find myself questioning choices but then thinking maybe that’s all they had offered to them.

      Reply
      1. tensecondsfromnow

        Well, McGregor says that he’d heard all about Weinstein, but lined up to do Miss Potter for him after this, so it must have been a choice between that or the unemployment line. He’s not the only one, collective amnesia seems to be created by the use of cold hard cash.

  2. Over-The-Shoulder

    So bad it’s good? Maybe? Probably not. But I always find ridiculous plots enjoyable to make fun of. Got to have bad films for snarky and sarcastic comments. The world would just not go round without them.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Not quite so bad it’s good, but it did have potential in that direction. Maybe in a few more years it will be rediscovered as a cult treasure, especially given the cast. For now it just seems like a glum mess.

      Reply
      1. Over-The-Shoulder

        It was all so fast. I thought I was defending us, but seems like he can’t handle truth tellers. Well, there’ll be no common sense on his site anymore…

        Yeah, about 30 years too late for an intervention! Meltdown like the Simpsons power plant! There’s no saving him.

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