In contrast to the poem stanza that inspired the title and theme of this film, That Good Night “goes gently” and fades into obscurity quickly and decisively.
Filmed in 2015 and released in 2017 after the death of Sir John Hurt, That Good Night follows an all-to-familiar theme: reconciliation. Based on a 1996 play of the same name by NJ Crisp, the film is directed by Eric Styles and adapted by Charles Savage. The film also stars Sofia Helin as Anna, Max Brown as Michael, Erin Richards as Cassie, Charles Dance as The Visitor, and Noah Jupe as Ronaldo.
The cinematography by Richard Stoddard in Portugal is exquisite. The locales, which are probably foreign to the majority of viewers, bring a sense of wonder and charm to the film.
We are quickly introduced to the characters in the film. A woman, Anna (Sofia Helin) is walking down the road with her housekeeper’s son Ronaldo (Noah Jupe) as they encounter a mail carrier. She receives a letter for Ralph (Sir John Hurt). As she gives the letter to him, she reminds him of a hospital appointment later in the day and there he learns of his terminal diagnosis.
Ralph returns to his home where he continues to try and write his latest screenplay. We learn he is a well-known writer with many accolades, but at this moment his hands hurt too much to write. We also learn he is estranged from his son Michael (Max Brown) but Ralph calls him up and says he has to see him, before Sunday.
Michael, also a writer, arrives with his girlfriend Cassie, and Ralph makes use of his sharp wit by insulting her every chance he gets. This is exasperated by her innocently interrupting Ralph every time he tries to tell Michael of his condition. Things come to a head when he insults her profession as an event organizer and she storms off.
At home, Ralph receives “The Visitor” who is a man dressed in white from “The Society.” Ralph has decided to take his own life. The Visitor isn’t convinced this is what Ralph really wants and continuously tests and counters Ralph’s wit by asking pointed questions. Ralph finally confides in Michael and requests he doesn’t tell Anna to spare her from a long grieving process. Michael also has a surprise of his own to tell Ralph, news that seems to instantly perk him up and makes him look forward to the next several months to give him something to live for.
The film ends predictively and with the voiceover of the famous Dylan Thomas poem and yet another montage.
I wanted to see this film for some time after the passing of Sir John Hurt having met him in 2016 and admiring his work for years. Unfortunately, the film’s availability in the United States was scarce, and only recently did I find it streaming online on Amazon Prime. With an estimated worldwide gross of only $79,711, it is no wonder it was hard to find. Despite it being Hurt’s last project, it failed to find proper release and distribution.
The film suffers from the same thematical cliches as the play: reconciliation, death, suicide, estrangement. Hurt’s sharp wit and endearing performance are all but lost in the cinematography and landscapes that swallow him up. Sofia Helin gives a tremendous performance as Anna, but her reaction to Michael’s news is unexpected and never quite explained.
I wanted to enjoy this film, but the hour and a half seemed to drag on. Ralph’s one-liners, though mildly amusing, are not enough to carry the film and are probably better received in the stage version. Make no mistake, Hurt does well, but this film is hardly a showcase of his talent, nor is it a performance to cap off a career the likes of Hurt’s. If you are in the mood for a slow-paced drama with a predictable storyline and ending, or if you want to see the last film of an incredible actor, then this might be the film for you. But if you are looking for a film that pulls you in and breaks your heart, this one misses the mark.
You can find That Good Night streaming for free on Amazon Prime or for free on Vudu, Tubi.tv and for purchase through all the normal streaming options.
- John Hurt as Ralph
- Sofia Helin as Anna
- Max Brown as Michael
- Erin Richards as Cassie
- Charles Dance as The Visitor
- Noah Jupe as Ronaldo
NJ Crisp (based on the play)