‘Sleeping Dogs’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: Was Roy Freeman The Real Murderer?


Adam Cooper’s Memento memoir debut feature is too crammed up for a behemoth like the Academy Award-winning Russell Crowe. But what this moody, broody adaptation of the 2017 novel The Book of Mirrors lacks in coherence, it sort of makes up for with its convincingly convoluted lanes that ultimately lead to a singular destination. Crowe’s Alzheimers-stricken retired detective should’ve let sleeping dogs lie. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that he’s on a path to solving one of the murder cases that he closed a decade ago, just as his experimental treatment is starting to bear fruit. What better puzzle than a real murder mystery to boost his synaptic regeneration? Following an overwhelming number of leads and a half-finished book by a very unreliable narrator, former detective Roy Freeman solves a murder with the convict about to meet his maker.

Spoiler Alert

What Happens in the Film?

Roy Freeman was one of the best detectives in his precinct until he broke the law himself. A drunk driving accident put an end to his career, and whatever was left of his life vanished when he got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He’s just undergone an experimental surgery that still makes him writhe in pain. His life gets all too overwhelming when he’s asked to look into a case that he solved years ago. The convict, Isaac Samuel, is due for the lethal injection in a month’s time. Meeting Isaac Samuel lands Roy Freeman in a kind of maze that’s all too new for the man, who can’t remember anything about the case he closed a decade ago. Isaac was convicted of brutally battering Professor Joe Wieder to death, but there’s something about Isaac’s claim of innocence that seems genuine to Roy. Isaac drops a lead for Roy to follow: Richard Finn, the man who came to meet him in prison, and said that he was writing a book about the murder. Even though Richard turns up dead from a mysterious fentanyl overdose, his half-finished memoir, which mostly follows the time leading up to Joe’s murder, is enough for Roy’s investigation to go on.

Richard was quite obsessed with his polyglot partner, Laura, the psychology student under Joe’s administration. It’s through her that Richard got to know and even started working for Joe Wieder. While a genius on his path to finding a cure for emotional trauma, Joe was allegedly claiming credit for Laura’s work and, if we’re to believe Richard’s book, had a steamy thing going on with her too. Isaac was a convenient convict. It’s bound to seem sketchy that Joe’s caretaker, Wayne, wasn’t properly interrogated before the case was closed. The picture Wayne still paints of the late Joe Wieder is of a man who was a brilliant scientist with a bit of a womanizer side to him. Joe used to record his sexual escapades, even the ones he had with his patients, like Diane Lynch. It makes no sense to Roy when Wayne tries to run him over and gets killed in the process. Laura, who now goes by the name Elisabeth Westgate, serves only to confuse Roy further—especially when he’s haunted by the flashbacks of having met her before all this. Back in the day, Roy’s partner, Jimmy Remis, was the one who signed off on all the documents connected to the case. Even though Jimmy seems friendly to Roy now, there’s a sense that Jimmy is hiding something about what really went down in Joe Wieder’s house all those years ago. 

Did Laura Baines steal Joe Wieder’s thesis?

When it comes to a charming professor and a doctoral student smitten by his genius and maybe more, you’d usually assume that if there’s any question of stolen credit, the profession was likely the one who did it. And for a hot minute, that did seem to be the case with Professor Joe Wieder and his lab assistant, Laura Baines. Now, you have to remember that a big chunk of Roy Freeman’s perception of the case comes from Richard Finn’s true-crime memoir. And from the way Richard wrote about Laura, the woman he never really moved on from, she came off as a genius with endless knowledge on any given topic. Richard made up his mind about the fact that there was something going on between Laura and Joe. But it’s not entirely clear right off the bat how Laura actually feels about her brilliant professor. For starters, she scribbled her name with a pen alongside Joe’s on the printed copy of his book, “The Mirror Effect.” She even made an official claim in Joe’s correspondence with the Department of Defense that the thesis Joe put his name on was actually written by her. It isn’t an entirely convincing claim, though. And I’ll tell you why. Joe’s murder opened up a path to Laura’s success when she added new findings to what was already there and put out a book that jumpstarted her career. She even changed her name to Elisabeth Westlake. 

Even though her reasoning is that her real name was tainted with Joe’s murder case, it sounds like a weak argument, given that Isaac Samuel was already convicted of the crime and no fingers were pointed at her. But the most damning proof that Laura indeed stole Joe’s credit after his death was the fact that she manipulated Wayne into killing Richard when he was about to reveal her lies to the world. She didn’t kill Joe. So, her only motivation to keep a tab on Roy and his investigation into the murder could be the fact that she didn’t want people to find out what a big fraud she was. But there’s also the matter of Laura having lit a fire under Roy by handing him that tape chronicling his wife’s affair with the professor. While that could be considered an action fueled only by her rage against Joe, you can also see how it might’ve been her way to get the real author of “The Mirror Effect” off her path to success. 

Why did Wayne try to kill Roy?

You can imagine the horrors Wayne’s time in Iraq inflicted on his mind. When Joe gave him a chance to start his life over with a job as his caretaker, Wayne was immensely grateful. He was all the more excited about the possibility of erasing the traumatizing memories of Iraq when Joe handed him pills that promised the same. He had to stop the experimental treatment as the side effects proved too gnarly, but he held no grudge against Roy Wieder. The cops readily pinning the crime on Isaac saved Wayne from having to go through the trouble of proving his innocence. You know how it gets with cops and people they find easy to heckle. Things took a turn for the worse for Wayne when Laura got into his mind and played him like a fiddle. With Roy reopening the case, everyone came under suspicion yet again. To keep Richard from spilling the truth about the stolen credit, Laura played with Wayne’s fear. The poor guy making do in life as a butcher was told that he was a suspect because Richard’s memoir called him the killer. But it wasn’t just Richard that Laura was after. She needed to put an end to the investigation that threatened her reputation. Wayne trying and failing to run Roy over not only proved that Laura was pulling his strings to make him kill the former detective, but the fentanyl present in his car also pointed at the fact that she’d made him kill Richard. Richard was never an addict, even at his worst. So, it’s unlikely that he died from a fentanyl overdose. Her ulterior plan must’ve been to puppeteer Wayne into carrying out the kills so she could keep her hands clean. Even if Wayne were to tell the truth to the cops, who’d believe someone like him over a celebrated scientist like Laura?

Was Roy Freeman the real murderer?

If Alzheimer’s takes memories, and memories make a person, then doesn’t Alzheimer’s take the person too? And if that’s the case, the Roy Freeman we meet is him from before he made any mistake big enough to fundamentally change him. Without the memories, Roy’s human instinct is to save Isaac’s life because his cop guts tell him to believe the man on death row. The experimental scientific trial that’s poked around in his head seems to be a success, with his memories resurfacing in flashes that are all too haunting for someone who doesn’t remember the flashes. Each one of the leads he follows is enigmatic in nature but doesn’t really fit the bill for someone who’s violent enough to bash a man to death with his own Hall of Fame-signed baseball bat. The only one who somewhat makes sense as the one with the truth, if he’s not the killer himself, is Jimmy Remis, Roy’s partner back in the day. Ever since losing the job to the drunk driving accident and his memories receding, Roy has lost touch with Jimmy. And the man he’s more acquainted with is too nice to be someone he finds suspicious for one gnawing question. Why were all the legal documents signed by only Jimmy and not his partner?

When it comes to facing Jimmy’s gun because Roy’s scrappy enough to find the murder weapon, Roy’s torn between believing the man he knows now and Laura’s accusations that add up. Jimmy needed money for his wife’s treatment, which admittedly wasn’t covered by the department’s health fund. It’s entirely convincing that Jimmy was extorting Laura through intimidation. But Roy’s memories aren’t kind enough to leave out the horror when they rush back. Hurray for his doctor, though. Jimmy did tell him he’d done it for him before dying from Laura’s bullet, but there weren’t enough pieces to put together yet. It all comes back in a poetic turn of fate—with a broken picture frame and pieces of glass that make up a puzzle no one can solve. Underneath it is a picture of his wife and him. And Diane, his wife, is the same woman who used to bartend at the place Roy used to frequent when he was a cop. Around the time Laura’s killing spree started, Joe was quite the Casanova and had a rather risque thing going on with his patient Diane. Laura preferred not to get her hands bloody. So, all she needed was to give alcoholic Roy a push to kill his homewrecker. Roy finished the deal with a baseball bat to Joe’s head. A crime his partner Jimmy helped him cover up like a good friend.

In Sleeping Dogs‘ ending, the wicked consequences of Roy’s memories coming back sort of validate Richard’s take on the fickle nature of memories in his memoir. The new dawn his resurfacing memories were supposed to bring proves to be a curse. The killer Roy was looking for is the man he sees when he looks in a mirror.

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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
In cinema, Lopamudra finds answers to some fundamental questions of life. And since jotting things down always makes overthinking more fun, writing is her way to give this madness a meaning.

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