Awake, directed by Aleksandr Chernyaev and written by Elana Zeltser, is a mystery thriller that brings viewers back to the days of the early 2000s crime thrillers. After his car suddenly slides out of control and into a ravine, John Doe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is left without a single memory of his past. But, with a rash of ritualistic serial murders and a body in his trunk, he’s suspect number on.
With his nurse, Diana (Francesca Eastwood), unable to find any identification, the police barge into the hospital accusing John of being the killer. The police have enough evidence to put him away even if he doesn’t know who he is. As the Sergeant ushers John into a private room for questioning, he manages to escape and with the help of Diana, who is convinced of his innocence. Now fugitives, the pair set off to the last crime scene in search of clues and ultimately answers to clear John’s name.
While Awake’s story is simple, if not a little derivative of others in the genre, the characters make it worth the watch. As Frank Ward, the detective in charge of handling the case, Malik Yoba offers up a stunning performance that shows determination and passion as he chases down John with his partner. Both set on proving his guilt. As a character, Frank is a straight shooter, he’s dedicated to his work, and his clear sense of justice works to drive a narrative as the one sure point in a film that continually makes you doubt both John’s guilt and innocence.
As for Meyers as John, he knocks it out of the park, even with an accent that I couldn’t quite place, especially given the fact that the most recent work of him I’ve seen before Awake was Vikings in which he sports his natural accent. Meyer’s ability to be confused yet so sure of his own morality shows his range as an actor. Chernyaev utilizes flashbacks that paint John as the killer with his own assertions and goodwill towards Diane to balance the damning moments of guilt by making you feel for his situation and believe his assurance of innocence.
When it comes to Dianne, Eastwood’s acting is fairly monotonous, she shines once she uncovers the truth behind John’s identity and the web of deceit that surrounds him. Her chemistry with Meyers is also undeniable, but she is outshined by the emotional range that Meyers brings to his scenes.
In addition to some lackluster acting from Eastwood, the pacing of the film feels slightly elevated, rushing moments instead of letting the tension build-up for full execution. That said, Diane’s journey from being held at home point to accepting aiding and abiding the prime suspect in a string of serial murders that look like her is too unbelievable. While Awake upholds the suspension of disbelief well, when Diane and John are together, regardless of their chemistry I question her motivations.
With all that said, the twist and the chase are enough to press play on Awake. Ultimately, the film is a throwback to the crime thrillers of the 1990s and early 2000s, which isn’t a bad thing but it hardly feels new. But while the story is simple, Malik and Meyer’s acting is superb.
Awake is available to watch on VoD now.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.