The Sleeping Dictionary - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Sleeping Dictionary Reviews

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Super Reviewer
January 10, 2008
This I never saw advertised in the cinema, but I watched it because of Jessica Albas recent fame. I would have expected it would have been a more popular film, its good, its fun, adult family film for the parents perhaps. Its a Romance.
Super Reviewer
½ September 13, 2007
First off, I give you the good news: Jessica Alba has nude scenes in this film. Rejoice perverts.

The bad news: It was a body double. =(

Anyway, the movie didn't sound too appealing to begin with but nothing else was on. I'm glad I had the chance to see this. I'm unsure as to whether the story is based on any reality but regardless, I really enjoyed it. Not only was the story captivating but I also loved the cinematography. To add, the acting wasn't half bad. Worth seeing.
Super Reviewer
June 6, 2007
Hey! I ran across this on FLIX last night. I, uh, I'm sorry to say that I really, ah, have nothing to offer, critically speaking, about this movie. I was, ah, concentrating too hard on, um, something while, uh, . . . . Okay, I was too busy watching Jessica Alba to think about anything else. I admit it. I admit it, okay? My apologies. Oh, I just thought of something: poison darts. Yes, and killing evil white men who try to poison the indigenous inhabitants in order to appropriate their silver mines in secret. Oh, and prototypical colonialist behavior on the part of the British, befitting that age-old urge to empire build. And, oh yeah, there's a white man enamored of a native woman. I don't think I've ever seen that before on film. And the white folk hate the idea, and so do the natives. And . . . uh . . . . HEY! It's Jessica Alba! Cut me some slack.
Super Reviewer
September 26, 2007
A remarkable movie! Hugh Dancy (looking younger in this film) is fantastic, as well as Jessica Alba.
Love the music composition and score. Great sceneries!
Super Reviewer
October 23, 2006
a very good romantic movie with an amazingly hot actor *drools*
½ June 1, 2014
Dancy and Alba were great together in this movie. I don't know if there is any basis in reality supporting this plot, but it made for a good story. The ending was beautiful and very satisfying after all their trials to be together.
August 24, 2009
Truly spellbinding a wonderful romantic movie. Jessica alba was perfect for the role as was hugh dancy
June 3, 2008
A very good story and Jessica Alba looks perfect in the role. Very nicely played by all, but the nude scenes are a body double, not really Jess, so don't get too excited.
December 1, 2007
excellent, film was absolutely gorgeous, couldn't have picked a better location for a love-story of this calibur
October 8, 2007
October 4, 2007
Alot of people don't know about this particular movie, but it's really good if you like love stories.
½ August 1, 2007
A nice story. Some really good actors. And beautiful sets. It moved a little slow at times but once the story picked up it was really good. Hugh Dancy is a dream to look at and I love every role he takes on. I could have really done without Jessica Alba, I truly feel she dampered the film. Get an actress who can act please.
½ March 21, 2007
this was a really good movie....very well played out!!! i love hugh dancy!!!!!! He did such a good job....SO did Jessica was great!
½ February 16, 2007
I really loved this movie. It also proves you just cant stay with some one else one you love aonther.
½ February 14, 2007
A very good story supported by many fine performances make this a love story worth seeing. Jessica Alba is a little hard to by as a Sarawak Native, but her performance gets you past this quickly and the chemistry between the actors (all of them) really shows in this film.
October 10, 2006
I really loved this movie. It was beautifully done. I thought Hugh Dancy and Jessica Alba had good chemistry. Jessica was so breathtaking in this one. I loved the ending.
June 21, 2013
This is really a good movie.
March 12, 2013
Decent historical drama about a young man having his eyes opened to his own Victorian social taboos - and his manhood. Alba is surprisingly good at owning her character and not just reading the lines. Hoskins plays the "dirty and compromised old man" with ease.
February 18, 2013
The Sleeping Dictionary, a mind-numbingly dull romantic flick, should be a lot better than it is. It has a relatively strong cast, particularly in supporting roles, it uses a reliable story arc that many people are familiar with, and it was filmed on-location in Sarawak which allowed it to stretch its $15 million budget further than it would if it was filmed in, say, Vancouver. But it's not terribly good. Not with its characters not reacting in a believable way, the repetition that the story forces upon us, and the overlong running time.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. John (Hugh Dancy), decides to travel to an island nation filled with a bunch of natives whom he wishes to educate. That's what his father did, after all, before his old man was killed in the war. The Iban tribe provides him with a "sleeping dictionary," someone who will provide for him sexually -- his contract doesn't allow him to marry for three years, so this is important -- and will also hope to teach him the language after six months. Jessica Alba is Selima, the woman tasked with doing these things.

They initially don't get along, in large part because John, a good Christian man, refuses to share his bed with her because he's waiting for marriage. But as time grows, his vow to God becomes less important, and soon enough, they're in love with one another. He, an Englishman, and she, an Iban, is forbidden, and if you're thinking Romeo and Juliet, you're not alone. It doesn't get to that point, thankfully, but their love isn't allowed and this causes all sort of problems for the both of them.

In supporting roles are Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn, playing a married couple who stayed in Sarawak after Hoskins' character filled John's role many years ago. They have a daughter, Cecilia (Emily Mortimer), whom they try to get to marry John, even though he loves Selima. It would make more sense, they think, considering she's also from England and it wouldn't be immoral or something. Keep in mind that this was the 1930s, so cross-culture relationships were weird and therefore wrong.

What doesn't work are many of the different ways in which characters react during the course of the film. I get that they're acting out of what's appropriate at the time, but it didn't make a lot of sense to me. John takes to the natives way too quickly, even going so far as getting them to kill a bunch of Europeans who were going to exploit the island for resources -- just weeks after he arrived. And while all he did was tell the natives that they should defend their land, he gets blamed (by Hoskins' character) for the murder of a bunch of his own people. How does that work?

It seemed like writer/director Guy Jenkin wasn't quite sure how to create enough tension and turmoil, so he made logical leaps that might have made sense in his head, but didn't translate to the screen. Overreactions are abound, people rarely act like you'd expect real humans to act, and the whole thing feels manipulative -- even though you don't care a lot because these aren't real people.

And even if you somehow get past that, and you don't care whether or not these people are real, the lead, John, is still quite the jerk. He eventually does marry Cecilia (spoiler alert!), but doesn't treat her with much respect or love -- because he loves Selima. But why did he marry Cecilia, and also, how did that three year probation run out so quickly? Because she was introduced and therefore has to be utilized. He does this for no actual reason, and then treats her terribly because he's selfish and doesn't understand how to care for another person.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Selima and John goes from 0 to 60 way too fast to be realistic. One night, they have a fight so she sleeps outside underneath the elevated hut, and then the next day, they're the most amiable people imaginable. Things like this happen far too quickly, and yet the middle section of the film drags and seemed to contain a lot of filler. When you talk about pacing problems, this is a good example. The parts that needed length weren't given it, while the times that could have easily been trimmed were extended instead.

The supporting cast is stronger than those given leading roles. When you have Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn in the same movie, both of whom have been nominated for seemingly every major acting award, they can carry a movie. Hoskins steals each scene that he's in, while Blethyn lets you know that her character is who is really in charge. Alba and Dancy are fine, but are nowhere near the actors that their elder counterparts are.

The Sleeping Dictionary isn't a good romantic drama, although it isn't a terrible film. It's overlong, yet paradoxically still brief in the moments of importance, and none of the drama or romance works because of how poorly written and developed these characters are. But the scenery is gorgeous, the actors are strong, and you could do a whole lot worse than this. You could do much better, too, which is why The Sleeping Dictionary doesn't get a recommendation, but it's not a terrible waste of time.
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