Reviewed by: Val Kermode

Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen) is a billionaire businessman trying to live up to the even greater success of his late father. He has a beautiful girlfriend, Sam (Jessica Alba). When we first hear the two of them talking about “when are you going to tell her?” we assume he’s married. But the woman he hasn’t told about the relationship is his very controlling mother. Sam works as a PA for Clay’s mother (Lena Olin) in the family home, which is how the two of them met. They have been secretly engaged for six months.

Clay also happens to be waiting for a heart transplant. Dr Harper (Terrence Howard) is the surgeon who has become Clay’s friend since he saved his life after a previous heart attack. He urges Clay not to waste time, but to confront his mother and to get on with his life with Sam. When Clay does decide to tell his her, she takes it as a betrayal but, having told her, he decides to get married right away in the middle of the night. Dr Harper helps him set this up and is there as a witness for the happy couple. Within hours the call comes through that a donor heart is available.

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Clay’s mother has a top surgeon whom she wants to perform the transplant. But Clay goes against her wishes and insists upon having his friend, Dr Harper. We see him being prepped for the operation, the small medical team assembling, Sam tearfully wishing him well.

What follows is the most gripping sequence, as Clay is given the anaesthetic, but it doesn’t work. He counts down and stops counting. But he realises that he is not falling asleep and can still hear everything that is being said. He is trapped, paralysed. We can hear his inner voice, see his thoughts, as he desperately tries to focus through the pain - the stuff of nightmares. This is extremely well done, but is only the beginning of a plot which owes something to film noir. To say more about what happens would be to spoil it.

The plot device of the patient being awake is crucial in showing us events past and present through his own eyes. It is very cleverly handled, as is the use of the oft-reported "out of body" experience, so that Clay, desperate to move and communicate, is allowed to get up and see beyond the operating theatre, where his wife and mother are waiting for him. Flashbacks, so often overused, serve a dual purpose here, both giving us essential information and helping the central character to survive. The use of lighting is impressive, especially a scene in his mother’s apartment where the lights go out one after another as Clay struggles to hold onto life. In another scene the mother lights a cigarette and this light in the darkness forms a fragile bond between mother and son, which in turn reminds us of an earlier scene on a subway train when Sam breaks up a cigarette, saying “You don’t need these.”

I am not sure how surgically realistic this film is and I don’t believe the statistics given at the beginning about how many people wake during surgery. It certainly isn’t recommended for anyone about to undergo an operation. But it is a very well made film and an amazing debut from Joby Harold, certainly a director to watch out for in future.

Reviewed on: 25 Mar 2008
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A man wakes up during surgery, unable to move, and hears doctors plotting his murder.
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Director: Joby Harold

Writer: Joby Harold

Starring: Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin, Christopher McDonald, Sam Robards, Arliss Howard, Fisher Stevens, Georgina Chapman, David Harbour

Year: 2007

Runtime: 84 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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