British director Carol Morley has gathered something of a following since The Falling, but that was four years ago and we’ve been waiting to see what would come next. Now we know. It’s Out Of Blue which, on the surface, looks like a noir murder mystery but turns out to have aspirations in other directions.
Morley has left behind the very English girls’ school setting of The Falling, moving the action to New Orleans in her adaptation of a Martin Amis novel which sees detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) investigating the murder of an astrophysicist and black hole specialist. She’s been shot dead in the observatory where she works but, despite a handful of obvious suspects, her death bears all the hallmarks of a serial killer who’s remained at large for several decades. And the cop is battling against her own personal demons as well.
A perfectly decent premise for a more than decent thriller, then, and especially for one in the noir style. And with a cast that includes not just Clarkson but Toby Jones, James Caan and Jacki Weaver, it promises much. The film embraces the noir genre and the characteristic dark mood with style and no little relish. But wait. There’s something not quite right with this world. The flat screen TVs, laptops and CSIs on the case make it clear that the setting is the present day – nobody uses a mobile phone. You’d expect the cop to have one, speed being of the essence, but it’s not just that she doesn’t use one – nobody does. It’s decidedly strange. Otherworldly, in fact. There’s the definite sense of the audience being set up for something more than just a police procedural.
Which is exactly the case. There is another side to the film, and it’s one that doesn’t work. Because the victim works in cosmology, the idea is taken several steps further – philosophizing on our connection with the universe, how we were created and there’s even a move into the territory of Schrodinger’s cat. If you don’t know about the latter, no matter, because the film will explain it. Inevitably, the detective has a cat of her own – a handsome grey creature, but oh, dear, did she really have to have one in the first place? Burdening the film with all this is distracting to the point of irritation. Worse still, apart from the connection with the murder victim’s job, it doesn’t develop the story in any direction, interesting or otherwise, and only has the most tenuous link with what’s happening on the screen.
All of which leads to a deep feeling of frustration, the sense that this is a movie trying too hard to be clever and over-complicating matters unnecessarily. Not that all film noir mysteries have straightforward plots – think Philip Marlowe and Polanski’s Chinatown, which the film echoes in its latter stages – and in that Out Of Blue keeps faith with the genre. But it doesn’t explain or excuse everything else that’s bolted on. It doesn’t bring anything to the party – except for confusion and disappointment.
Freda Cooper | [rating=2]
Crime, Thriller, Mystery | Cert: 15 | UK, 29 March (2019) | Picturehouse Entertainment | Dir. Carol Morley | Patricia Clarkson, James Caan, Toby Jones, Jacki Weaver.