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Sleeping Dogs movie review & film summary (2024)

Based on The Book of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici, “Sleeping Dogs” opens with its protagonist deep in the waking nightmare of dementia. Retired cop Roy Freeman (Crowe) has taped notes around his house that remind him of not only basic things like how to make toast but his own name. Of course, this is going to be one of those films with a “plot-convenient illness,” a particularly egregious bit of illness exploitation in my opinion, one that holds the protagonist back when the plot needs it to or just disappears when it’s time to build momentum. Roy is also undergoing some radical treatments that involve brain surgery and constant medication because why not? The set-up allows a traditional cop character to investigate a crime he once closed as if he’s doing so for the first time. Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows he will re-discover some things he forgot for a reason.

The re-investigation is launched by the imminent death row execution of Isaac Samuel (Pacharo Mzembe), convicted for the bloody murder of a professor and researcher named Dr. Joseph Wieder (Marton Csokas), a decade earlier. Samuel is obviously innocent—no movie otherwise—and flashbacks reveal that he was there when Wieder was murdered but didn’t see the doctor’s assailant. Roy decides to dig into the case, taking him back into the path of his former partner Jimmy Remis (Tommy Flanagan, trying to out-grizzle his co-star), who keeps encouraging Roy to let sleeping dogs lie. Get it? That’s the title of the movie.

Of course, Roy, despite dealing with a condition that has decimated his life, decides to re-open the case fully, starting with the recently-and-suspiciously-deceased Richard Finn (Harry Greenwood), who wrote a sort of true crime memoir about the Wieder murder. Finn’s partner Laura Baines (Karen Gillan) was research partners—and maybe more—with Wieder, and she’s clearly one of the keys to what happened that night. Cooper’s film fractures into a long flashback of the weeks leading up to the crime through Finn’s eyes/voice, but we’re never quite sure how seriously we’re supposed to take it. It’s not just that writing that describes Laura as “one of those rare unicorns who knew everything about everything” can’t possibly be taken seriously but that Finn could be playing with the artistic license of his form or may not have all the facts himself. 

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