Carol Morely’s fourth feature Out Of Blue stars Patricia Clarkson as a troubled detective on the pursuit of a suspected serial killer. Adapted from Martin Amis’s 1997 novel Night Train and with a screenplay courtesy of director herself, the film has aspirations of being a smart hardboiled neo-noir with a cosmic twist, but in reality it is a decidedly muddled, jarringly directionless and an altogether baffling offering from a filmmaker who, it has to be said, is capable of far more coherent output.
When famous astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer) is found dead at the observatory of her New Orleans university, detective Mike Hoolihan (Clarkson) is compelled by an unknown force that appears to bind her with the dead woman to pursue the case and find her killer. With Jennifer’s boyfriend Duncan (Jonathan Majors) and slippery colleague Prof Ian Strammi (Toby Jones) as prime murder suspects, the detective has her work cut our for her and very few clues to go by to crack the case.
Things are further complicated when it transpires that Rockwell’s own father, Vietnam war hero Col Tom Rockwell (James Caan), could be at the centre of a decades old mystery which may be directly related to the young woman’s death. When a series of bizarre cosmic and metaphysical events involving her own past start manifesting around her, recovering alcoholic Hoolihan must look closer to home to solve the riddle.
From the offset there is a sense that Morley (Dreams of a Life, The Falling) has put her heart, soul and every metaphysical thought she’s ever had into this ambitious, yet deeply flawed narrative. This isn’t to say that the subject itself is the problem here, in fact the recurring cosmic question about life and death is what makes the film stand out from the usual hackney neo-noir schtick. The problem here is that there are perhaps too many ideas floating around and vying for our attention to be able to make sense of what is being conveyed by the storyline. From String Theory to Schrödinger’s Cat, Morley tries and, it has to be said, fails to offer a coherent enough argument for her choice of narrative and style, and in the end we are left wishing for something a little more pragmatic to hold on to.
Away from the complicated nonsense about cats in boxes and parallel universes, there are some commendable ideas relating to gender and identity which almost succeed in driving Morley’s vision home, but sadly none of these ideas seem to have enough legs and are soon abandoned in favour of more cosmic shenanigans and needlessly drawn out exchanges.
Clarkson is as outstanding as ever in a role which demands rather a lot from her. And although she is often let down by a script which can’t quite decide what kind of person she is, the actor still manages to inhabit the role the way only she can.
As well-intentioned as it is, it’s fair to say that Out Of Blue is a decidedly flawed hardboiled noir which offers up an interesting premise, but never quite manages to deliver on its own ambitious and grandiose ideas about our place in the universe.
Out of Blue is in cinemas from Friday March 29th.