Patricia Clarkson stars in Carol Morley’s loose adaptation of the Martin Amis novel ‘Night Train’
Dir. Carol Morley. UK. 2018. 110 mins
A jaded homicide detective digs deep into the death of an astrophysicist and finds herself grappling with questions of philosophy, physics and her own personal history, in this enigmatic muddle of a crime picture from Carol Morley. Patricia Clarkson plays detective Mike Hoolihan, a tough cookie character who is as hard boiled as her name suggests. But from the outset, something about the death by shooting of black hole expert Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer) gets under Mike’s skin. With its arch, Lynchian tropes and curiously mannered dialogue, which may be deliberately disengaged from reality or may just be out of tune with the voices of the characters, this film will not be for everyone.
Morley creates a jagged, stylised hyper-reality which seems adrift from the story’s geographical location
Following its world premiere in Toronto, Out Of Blue will screen as a special presentation at the London Film Festival. And it’s within the festival circuit that the picture is likely to find audiences most open to its decidedly offbeat approach to noir. Critical support will be crucial to any plans for theatrical release.
Although loosely adapted from ’Night Train’, the 1997 novel by Martin Amis, the picture’s new title is an indication of how far removed the screenplay is from the original source. Morley creates a jagged, stylised hyper-reality which seems adrift from the story’s geographical location – it is set in New Orleans but there is no concrete sense of place to ground it there.
The main suspects in the case of the dead scientist are her colleague Ian Strammi (a nervy turn by Toby Jones) and her boyfriend Duncan (Jonathan Majors), who was with her on the night she died. But Hoolihan is troubled by aspects of the case which somehow elude her – the face cream which shows up in her sketch but not in the scene of crime photograph; the scattering marbles which she sees wherever she looks. There’s also something unsettling about Jennifer Rockwell’s family: the war hero father (James Caan), the slightly demented mother (Jacki Weaver) and the twin brothers.
One of the strengths of the film is the slippery, unknowable quality that Clarkson brings to the role of a woman who has seen it all and shut a part of herself off from the violence which surrounds her. Morley plants seeds of doubt about the detective’s state of mind. Hoolihan is a recovering alcoholic who falls spectacularly off the wagon in one scene. And increasingly, it becomes clear that not everything she sees is what it appears to be. Since we view the story largely through the eyes of the detective, this makes for a frequently baffling experience. Atmospheric shots in which Detective Hoolihan reclines on the bonnet of a car do little to clarify matters.
Conrad W Hall’s cinematography gives the picture a bruised sense of potential threat, but the atmosphere is repeatedly dismantled by cross-purpose dialogue which simply doesn’t ring true, however huskily Clarkson whispers it. It’s disappointing too that despite all the out-of-this-world musings on the nature of matter and the frequent references to outer space, the film so frequently resorts to clichéd crime thriller tropes, not least a jarring scene in a strip joint.
Production company: Independent, Cannon and Morley Productions
International Sales: Independent firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Luc Roeg, Cairo Cannon, Maggie Monteith
Screenplay: Carol Morley, adapted from ‘Night Train’ by Martin Amis
Production Design: Janey Levick
Editing: Alex Mackie
Cinematography: Conrad W Hall
Music: Clint Mansell
Main cast: Patricia Clarkson, Jacki Weaver, James Caan, Toby Jones, Mamie Gummer, Devyn Tyler, Yolonda Ross, Aaron Tveit, Jonathan Majors