Credit: The Avenue
by Noel Oakshot Featured Film Genre Views

Sleeping Dogs — Adam Cooper

March 22, 2024

Russell Crowe plays ex-cop Roy Freeman in the mystery thriller Sleeping Dogs, a film that feels like it was made dispassionately by a committee of business school graduates trying to squeeze every last nickel out of beleaguered fans of such receding specters as Memento and Se7en. The film is the directorial debut of Adam Cooper, a behind-the-scenes industry man whose resume is littered with such calamitous bombs as Allegiant, Assassin’s Creed, and Exodus: Gods and Kings, and it’s based on the crime novel by Romanian author E.O Chirovici, who rejected offers to work on the film.

While being treated for an advanced Alzheimer’s case with an experimental therapy involving both surgery and medicine, Roy is looped back into a case from his past life involving the murder of a renowned psychiatrist who was developing a method of repressing traumatic memories. The narrative is told in a kind of collapsed Rashomon structure that intends to interrogate the mystery from several perspectives, but totally fails to palpably effectuate them such that you could be forgiven for failing to notice it at all. You’d hope some of these central themes about memory and medical tampering with the brain might collide with the central conflict to some compelling end, but they only ever show up in the most superficial and unengaging way. Viewers struggling to stay entertained by the plodding pace of the movie will doubtless be forced to conjure up some more entertaining story ideas of their own. The only twist that surprises is the mildly amusing revelation that alcohol abuse does not in fact cause problems with his medication. In fact, going so hard that he wakes up on an abandoned couch on the sidewalk — then immediately hitting the booze again — only helps him recover his memory faster! Crowe is actually quite good in the role of Roy, but is one of the film’s few redeeming elements. On the other hand, Karen Gillan’s turn as the femme fatal is another humiliating role for the Doctor Who star.

Sleeping Dogs is supposedly set in 2024, but nevertheless feels like a period piece with how freely Cooper and crew borrow shots, settings, scenes, and more from films made during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. It’s hard to even tell if this is intentional or not; the visual language is so weak and unintentional it may have just been an accidental side effect of trying to reverse engineer the success of films that were hits decades ago. And that’s really the key problem here: not that the film is a poor facsimile of the likes of Memento and Se7en, but that’s ambitions seem no greater than to be a facsimile of those films. These kinds of single brush stroke psychological neo-noirs, littered with attempts to weave in grand notes about morality, human nature, and so on, are downright boring, and have nothing authentic to say about the world we live in today. Maybe genre antecedents were more impactful as the first to fully realize this sensationalist literary mode on screen. Maybe they hit a paranoid vein running beneath the surface of the cultural landscape. Perhaps they were successful in their time because people were less credulous. But in 2024, can you imagine any somewhat grounded story about a detective with amnesia that would strike audiences as revelatory, or original, or creative? Filmmakers should make cinema for the people and the times we inhabit now, not lifeless recapitulations of past successes.

DIRECTOR: Adam Cooper;  CAST: Russell Crowe, Karen Gillan, Marton Csokas, Thomas Wright;  DISTRIBUTOR: The Avenue;  IN THEATERS: March 22;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 50 min.