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Out of Blue review - noir and cosmology collide | reviews, news & interviews

Out of Blue review - noir and cosmology collide

Out of Blue review - noir and cosmology collide

Carol Morley adapts Martin Amis' detective novel into a moody, overblown enigma

Into the black hole: Patricia Clarkson as detective Mike Hoolihan in 'Out of Blue'

At the start of Carol Morley’s noir mystery Out of Blue, detective Mike Hoolihan, bleary-eyed and slow, is carrying some burdensome weight. “This burger from last night is not sitting right,” comes the weary female investigator’s first line.

Hoolihan’s fondness for late-night Louisiana diners does not prepare her well for the early morning murder call. Despite the ache, however, her indigestion is mostly a mental one. We see it in the face of Patricia Clarkson (in a strong, eerie performance) and her rumination-worn look, the creases of time etched under dark sunglasses. Hoolihan is so muted and mysterious that when, soon after, she goes hardball in a clichéd interrogation scene (shouting at a suspect, beating the desk) it feels like she’s out of character.

Loosely adapted from Martin Amis’ 1997 novel Night Train, Out of Blue begins after the apparent murder of astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer). Rockwell’s research is in black holes and in piercing the heart of the universe’s “dark matter”. She is found dead in the observatory where she works, shot in the face. A few items are left strewn around her and provide leads. Something about the objects brings up a painful, unidentifiable recollection for Hoolihan. She is a “case-closing legend” but also a recovering alcoholic, and the detritus before her spurs a moment of self-reflection. Will she be able to close this one? Will relapse ensue? From this point onwards, the plot’s two strands – finding the killer, and delving into the dark matter of Hoolihan’s self – leap off and intertwine in characteristic noir fashion.Patricia Clarkson in 'Out of Blue'Hoolihan’s first suspect is Rockwell’s lover Duncan Reynolds (Jonathan Majors), who is also a lecturer in astrophysics. He is sensitive, a deep thinker, and the perfect mouthpiece to amplify the film’s metaphysical tone with lines like, “The only way to enter a black hole is in our minds.” Other suspects emerge. There is the neurotic Professor Ian Strammi (Toby Jones), who is a colleague of Rockwell’s. Then, echoing John Huston in Chinatown, there is Rockwell’s father, Colonel Tom Rockwell (James Caan), a sour businessman and army veteran. Morley is content to have Hoolihan stumble along without any breakthroughs, instead preferring to evoke a dreamy mood and have her ponder morbid profundities. One of Jennifer Rockwell’s observations, delivered in an interview video that Hoolihan researches, grasps a bit too desperately in this direction: “In order for us to live, a star must die.”

Amis’ Night Train was a wry parody of the hardboiled detective genre in which he smuggled in existential themes for dramatic embellishment. In Out of Blue, Morley eschews the parodic humour but overloads on the weighty themes. Clarkson combines the two modes of superior detective and trauma-riddled soul without flaw, but she is dragged along through a dispersed and tiresome plot. Like the dolorous heat of New Orleans, where the action takes place, the film’s tone is too overbearing. If the self-effacing whimsy of Hoolihan’s first remark had continued throughout the film, the oppressive baggage might have been bearable.

Like the dolorous heat of New Orleans, the film's tone is too overbearing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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