Out Of Blue

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Out Of Blue
"If you see one portrayal of a screwed up female detective with a drink problem this year, make it this one." | Photo: Camp Films

One night an elegant blonde in old fashioned clothes is found dead on the floor of the astronomical institute where she works. A hardboiled detective with an alcohol problem and mysterious, traumatic past is called in to investigate. it turns out that the victim came from a rich, eccentric family; that she had an obnoxious boyfriend and a boss who might have been in love with her; and that her case just might be connected in some way to a series of serial murders which took place years ago. All the elements of a classic noir are here, but they're bound together wit something else. As the detective investigates, she grows increasingly convinced that the murder had something to do with the victim's research into dark matter, and the answers she is seeking require not just routine investigation but an inquiry deep into her own mind.

Loosely adapted from Martin Amis' novel Night Train, this is a bold thriller with a big idea at its core, and although it fells short of its aims there' some good stuff along the way. The most impressive thing about it is Patricia Clarkson's performance. If you see one portrayal of a screwed up female detective with a drink problem this year, make it this one; where Nicole Kidman's Destroyer character is all ham, Clarkson manages to humanise even this most exploited archetype, giving her surprising depths and holding the viewer's attention even during the film's weakest moments. When she's offscreen you'll be waiting for her to come back; she grips even when the story doesn't.

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Mystery movie fans will find an abundance of questions and clues to try and untangle. What happened to the victim's scarf? Why does the detective consider her face cream so important? Why does her boyfriend (Jonathan Majors) overexplain everything like a nervous Columbo villain, and what's going on with her creepy twin brothers? There's enough here for a mini series, let alone a film, and the risk is that the narrative will get swamped, though that's also part of the point - the detective is dealing with a situation in which there's too much information for any clear path to emerge (until it does so abruptly, inadvertently, in classic Agatha Christie fashion), and in this way her quest parallels the astronomers' endeavours to make sense of the universe. What matters is not the information itself but the presence of patterns within it.

All of this might have been pulled together into something special if writer/director Carol Morley had only understood physics and philosophy as well as she thought she did. It's natural that there would be some dumbing down of the subject to make it accessible to a mainstream audience, but simplification does not require misleading the audience or presenting us with supposedly respected senior scientists addressing one another as if they were quoting inspirational Facebook memes. A late night conversation about Schrödinger’s cat is particularly embarrassing, giving the impression that Morley thinks this what physicists do all the time, and the repeated explanations of this most famous theory in quantum physics are likely to leave many viewers feeling thoroughly patronised. Furthermore, every time our heroine is dazzled by talk about how we're all made of stardust, as if she'd never thought of it before, it undermines the notion that she's really the intelligent and curious person she's presented as. Clarkson has to work constantly to pull back from the damage done by the lines she has to speak. She deserves better.

Where does this leave us? The film has other strong points. It's tightly edited and benefits from a classy Clint Mansell score. Morley delivers on style even where she falls short on substance, and for many lovers of noir, style comes first. There are some nice pieces of supporting work, notably from James Caan as the victim's father, and the costume design adds a lot to the characters without going too over the top. All the right elements seem to be present yet the whole remains nebulous, lacking gravity. It illustrates Morley's potential; it doesn't yet feel complete.

Reviewed on: 19 Mar 2019
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Detective thriller based on Martin Amis' Night Train.
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Director: Carol Morley

Writer: Carol Morley, based on the book by Martin Amis

Starring: Patricia Clarkson, James Caan, Toby Jones, Jacki Weaver, Mamie Gummer, Aaron Tveit, Jonathan Majors, Alyshia Ochse, Lucy Faust, Gary Grubbs, Yolonda Ross, Brad Mann, Thomas Francis Murphy, Todd Mann, Tenea Intriago

Year: 2018

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: US, UK


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