If you fed a robot every script of CSI, NCIS and the like and asked it to come up with its own script, it probably would have produced Out of Blue. In actual fact, I can’t be certain that it’s not the case. A detective story so laden with cliché, so deliberately slow, so unbelievably cheap in every decision, it could only be a feature-length crime-serial episode, but it’s not. Carol Morley’s film consistently manages to bore, offering absolutely nothing new to the genre, constantly trying to transcend to a deep, astronomical discussion, never achieving it. Patricia Clarkson does her best with the awful script, but there’s only so many elongated shots you can have of her looking dour, staring off into the distance before they become annoying.
Clarkson plays Detective Mike Hoolihan: grizzled loner, wears black and doesn’t play by the rules. When local astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer) is found shot dead by the observatory telescope, clues scattered around her body Hoolihan must piece together the evidence to capture the murderer. It may be linked to a famed serial killer of New Orleans’ past judging by the clues but no one is sure. The prime suspects include creepy, British colleague Ian Strammi (Toby Jones), nervous ex-lover Duncan Reynolds (Jonathan Majors) and her own father Col. Tom Rockwell (James Caan). As she tries to piece together the case, Hoolihan’s own mind is slowly disintegrating. A long-forgotten trauma from her past is brought to the surface by the case and threatens to derail her entire investigation.
A man behind me in the cinema was snoring loudly throughout most of Out of Blue. This film is dull. That’s perhaps it’s greatest problem and there’s a lot of things that contribute to it. The dialogue is dreadful all around. Every character speaks in childish metaphors as if they’d been set a task by their English teacher. Lines such as “like a trail of clues, leading to the heart of this dark matter” when referring to black holes BUT ARE THEY JUST REFERRING TO BLACK HOLES? Wink wink. Everything is overtly spelled out to the audience to deny any atom of mystery to this dreary tale. The only dialogue that lacks clarity is the philosophical/physics discussion which is thrown in for flavour but doesn’t really have any impact on anything. Discussion about Schrödinger’s Cat goes on and on and on, never really taking you anywhere until Hoolihan uses it as a metaphor for sexual abuse. That’s the level that we’re on. There is some faux-Lynchian space imagery which looks cool, but you’ve probably already fallen asleep by that point anyway.
The characters are straight out of an Agatha Christie novel too, though they lack any real depth. Duncan Reynolds’ states when he sees water, he sees surface tension, volume and other random physics terms whilst normal people see beauty and colour. Dr Strammi claims he couldn’t be the murderer because he was up all night discussing Schrodinger’s Cat! The characters are caricatures, never really fleshed out beyond archetype.
Clarkson’s Hoolihan is the most cliched of the lot, however. She drives around, lost in thought for quite a lot of the film. She goes to the shooting range when faced with anger. When all seems lost, she drowns her sorrows at a strip club. She has visions of her past that seem to link her to the case. Almost everything Hoolihan does, other cinematic detectives have done in the past. The clues she is given are blatantly obvious. The worst of these being an annotated photo pointing to an object saying “One of a kind” – that must be important! The most interesting part of Clarkson’s character is her deteriorating mental state, but we’re never really given much insight into it, beyond some obscure dream sequences and a Fight Club-esque twist which still manages to be dull.
Clint Mansell’s soundtrack tries its best to lift the dreariness, but it seems satirical at times, as the soundtrack builds in an anti-climatic scene of Clarkson glowering. The acting is decent enough with the script that’s provided. James Caan and Jackie Weaver were certainly strongest as the bereaved parents of Jennifer Rockwell, bringing a dash of familial intrigue to the stale affair.
I could go on and on about Out of Blue but that would be hypocritical considering I’ve criticised it for the same reason. At every turn, the film manages to nail another trope, bash the audience over the head with an expository metaphor or simply linger far too long on Patricia Clarkson. There is something worthwhile in the film but it’s not even remotely close to being the focus. We may all be stardust as the film repeatedly tells us, but Out of Blue falls well, well below the stars.
Ewan Wood | [rating=1]
Crime, Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | Picturehouse Entertainment | 29th March 2019 (UK) | Dir.Carol Morley | Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Weaver, James Caan, Mamie Gummer, Toby Jones, Jonathan Majors