Sleeping Dogs – Russell Crowe Forgets Everything in This Forgettable Detective Thriller

MOVIE REVIEW – Forgotten what a true amnesia thriller feels like? You might be better off revisiting Christopher Nolan’s classic, but Sleeping Dogs tends to just regurgitate forgettable cliches that, unfortunately, we haven’t managed to forget. While Russell Crowe hasn’t forgotten how to deliver a solid performance, the film itself sadly spins familiar tropes anew.


It’s been over two decades since Christopher Nolan’s Memento shook up the cinematic world, so perhaps borrowing from his playbook is no longer seen as sacrilege.  Sleeping Dogs doesn’t mess with chronological order but resonates closely with the thematic and atmospheric tones of Memento. Russell Crowe plays Roy Freeman, an amnesiac former cop who doesn’t tattoo his schedule on his body but sticks labels all over his apartment instead. This is his way of ensuring he finds his remote control and other essentials where he expects them the next day.



 The Play of Amnesia and Memory


Roy battles Alzheimer’s but implanted experimental electrodes offer a glimmer of hope that his condition might be alleviated, or even cured. Conveniently for the plot, he can recall crucial details when necessary. However, the depiction of Alzheimer’s leans more towards a writer’s fancy than an accurate representation of the disease. Although most dementia patients first lose their short-term memory, Roy seems to keep track of the details he learns throughout the story quite well. He no longer recognizes most of his life and the people in it, though.

When an organization aiming to free wrongly convicted individuals contacts Roy, urging him to visit a death row inmate he helped convict, there’s no reason for him not to. Encouraged by his doctor and the convict, Roy delves into the possibly unsolved murder case he can’t remember. If you haven’t guessed how the movie ends—given the title, Sleeping Dogs —then you’re the target audience. Perhaps you’ve never seen a detective movie before—at least according to the filmmakers. The underlying novel is titled The Book of Mirrors, so the film’s explicit title might not have been necessary.



 Relapse and Discoveries


Crowe dazzles even in the most mundane scenes—one of the film’s highlights is a twist on the “falling off the wagon” trope as he portrays the pure joy of a man who has literally forgotten how much he loves whiskey. The ending might seem inevitable, but the journey there is filled with small delights.

As long as Crowe is on screen, the story captivates. However, the film takes a detour when Roy starts reading a memoir, and suddenly the film shifts direction entirely. An arrogant young postgraduate, Richard Finn (Harry Greenwood), obsessively follows an aspiring doctor, Laura Baines (Karen Gillan), who is rumored to have had an affair with her professor, Dr. Joseph Wieder (Marton Csokas), who is also the murder case victim Roy reopens. Greenwood, with a young Brad Dourif-like aura, becomes an instant suspect but cannot match Crowe’s masterful portrayal of an amnesiac alcoholic with a severe head injury. Is this fair? Of course not. The original novel only introduced Roy as a protagonist in the third act, so here Crowe is given much more to do than the source material originally offered.



 Mediocre Creators’ Red Herrings?


Sleeping Dogs marks the directorial debut of Adam Cooper, who penned the script with his usual writing partner, Bill Collage. They previously collaborated on the Assassin’s Creed film, the Jason Statham-less  The Transporter Refueled, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods And Kings . A less forgiving critic might say that subpar adaptations are their specialty. Nonetheless, Cooper proves he has a keen eye, remembering that film noir and its derivatives are named for their literal and thematic darkness and shadows. As long as the story follows Roy, it’s filled with dark corners and headache-inducing contrasts. The extended Richard Finn flashback is captured more conventionally, while Roy’s electrode-induced, last-minute flashbacks show a convincingly de-aged Crowe in warmer lighting.

A protracted “red herring” subplot makes one think the movie will be smarter than it actually is—I won’t spoil anything, but with such an obvious title, the best strategy is to try to mislead you, which works for a while. Tommy Flanagan initially contributes significantly to this diversion as Roy’s old partner, clearly hiding something. Karen Gillan, who has shone in many other films, struggles with a clunky script that never lets her fully embody her femme fatale role. The originally accused, Pacharo Mzembe, makes a strong first impression but is almost completely removed from the story as soon as Roy digs deeper into the murder case.



Russell Crowe, Unforgotten


For Crowe enthusiasts, this film might not disappoint – it’s clear he’s put in the work for his pay. We hope he was compensated well, because for most viewers, the movie is likely to fade from memory as swiftly as the protagonist’s pre-surgical life.

-Herpai Gergely (BadSector)-



Sleeping Dogs

Direction - 4.8
Actors - 7.4
Story - 4.4
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 5.6
Ambience - 4.4



Sleeping Dogs attempts to evoke the spirit of film noir in a modern setting, but only partially succeeds. Despite Russell Crowe’s compelling performance, the plot often loses itself in its own subplots and clichés. Adam Cooper’s directorial debut may have looked promising on paper, but it proves less effective on screen. The film has its memorable moments, but overall, it fails to leave a lasting impression.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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