Sleeping Dogs Review | Russell Crowe Loses His Mind with Karen Gillan


Summary

  • Karen Gillan shines in an otherwise monotonous, mostly lifeless film about a detective with memory loss.
  • Crowe’s subdued performance is interesting, but the whole thing has been done before and quickly becomes predictable.
  • Tommy Flanagan is very good as a complete scumbag, but you can generally avoid this film and let sleeping dogs lie.



Sometimes it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie, as the saying goes. And folks have been saying this for centuries, if you want to do a deep dive and trace the phrase’s origins. It dates back to the 1300s and possibly even before then. But more recently, it’s been the inspiration of a new feature film by Adam Cooper in his feature directorial debut. Cooper is known for writing the scripts for genre projects like Allegiant (2016) and Assassin’s Creed, both released in 2016. Sleeping Dogs is based on an acclaimed novel that possesses an entirely different title…

The Book of Mirrors by E. O. Chirovici was published back in 2017 and features a detective character who is really only the focus of one of three parts of the story, as we learned from our recent interview with Cooper. In Cooper’s film adaptation, we’re following retired detective Roy Freeman from the get-go, and he’s played with a sort of muted yet thought-provoking turn by Academy Award winner Russell Crowe. Unfortunately, seeing the New Zealander back in action and a juicy yet limited supporting turn by rising star Karen Gillan are just about the only rewarding parts of Sleeping Dogs, unfortunately.



The Ol’ Death Row Catalyst

Sleeping Dogs

1.5/5

Release Date
April 25, 2024

Runtime
110 Minutes

Studio
Film Victoria, G2 Dispatch, Gala Media Capital

Pros

  • Karen Gillan is excellent and it’s nice to see Crowe in this kind of role again.
Cons

  • Sleeping Dogs is oddly monotonous and lifeless.
  • The plot is entirely predictable.

Sleeping Dogs takes place in a modern-day universe that continues to experiment with alternative treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. That includes protagonist Roy (Crowe), who we quickly learn has been subjected to horrific cuts to the top of his head. But fret not, for it’s all in the name of science. Roy is all stitched up with long parallel slits across his scalp, where doctors have implanted new technology that might assist in slowing the rate of his unfortunate dementia. And what imperfect timing for this tragic disease, as Roy is ultimately yanked back into a seemingly closed murder case from 10 years earlier.


Roy is a role that the multiple Oscar-winning Crowe can play in his sleep, and we’ve seen him tackle detective and/or law enforcement-type roles in the past — think back to L.A. Confidential, American Gangster, and even The Nice Guys, all of which are far superior films to Sleeping Dogs. But fans of the Hollywood powerhouse performer will enjoy seeing him back in the role, even if his turn here is rather subdued, muted and perhaps even downplayed.

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The plot kicks into high gear when Roy pays a visit to hotheaded death row inmate Isaac Samuel (Pacharo Mzembe, basking in the film’s standout scene). He pleads with Roy that it wasn’t him who murdered a certain college professor (veteran character actor Márton Csókás) back in the day. This strikes a nerve with Roy, who then proceeds to track down his old partner Jimmy (Tommy Flanagan, oozing sleaze) to try and jog his ever-failing memory about what exactly transpired…

And it’s when this questionable Jimmy character enters the picture that things start to go awry for us moviegoers. The sleazy, A-hole way in which Flanagan plays him from the get-go just lays the groundwork for more predictable plot elements to come. We know where this is going, spoilers aside. But we know Roy means business, and his old partner conveniently pushes back relentlessly. “Let it go, Jimmy.” Maybe you should let sleeping dogs lie.

Karen Gillan, Save Us!


There are countless cinephiles out there who are probably more than smitten with Karen Gillan these days, thanks to her popping performances in Oculus, Dual, Doctor Who, and the massive franchises for Jumanji and the MCU. The drop-dead Scottish actress finally swoops in as Laura Baines, a sort of femme fatale in the Sleeping Dogs tale. She’s phenomenal, but it’s unfortunately not enough of a defibrillator to give the overall film a pulse.

It all has a dark, somewhat monotonous tone that seems to resist any sort of thrill or heartbeat — which certainly isn’t always needed in cinema, mind you. But with a determined and hard-headed Crowe in the leading role, and even despite his old age at this point, one can’t help but assume he’ll pull out the big guns and start throwing some serious smackdowns at any given point, in the vein of his star-making ’90s classic L.A. Confidential. But not here.


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Instead, he fights the urge to guzzle booze while dealing with a perpetually foggy memory, and these palpable struggles are sometimes enough to keep us hooked, a la Philip Marlowe. But ultimately, it doesn’t help that we know exactly where this tale is headed, even if you’re no Sherlock Holmes or expert in the realm of detective cinema.

Ultimately, the filmmakers and producers here could have taken note of their new title, Sleeping Dogs. Co-writer/director Adam Cooper has certainly proven himself as a genre writer based on his past filmography, and perhaps he should stick to directing projects that are more in line with the Transporter and Assassin’s Creed franchises. In terms of taking on an acclaimed novel like The Book of Mirrors and trying to turn it into a big-screen production with a great cast, they all should’ve let sleeping dogs lie.


From The Avenue, Sleeping Dogs is now playing only in theaters. Check out the trailer below:



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