Out of Blue Review
In Carol Morley's latest feature film, Patricia Clarkson battles with inner demons and the outer cosmos in a film which tackles trauma, murder and multiple universes against the backdrop of the New Orleans skyline. The British director, perhaps best known for her 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life, takes this story to the US - a story based on Martin Amis' novel 'Night Train'. Like Dreams of a Life, themes of human connection, serendipity and mortality feature heavily in Out of Blue and the result is something quite unlike anything that has gone before.
Clarkson, chameleon-like in this role, plays Mike Hoolihan - a homicide detective. She dresses in dark suits, is an ex-alcoholic and gives off an aura of 1940's era noir detectives. She's alone, she's isolated, and her latest case might just break her. The case in question is one of a young woman's apparent murder. The victim, Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer) , is a nuclear scientist and her body is discovered on a rooftop at the base of a giant telescope. There are Cluedo-esque clues surrounding the body - a tin of hand cream, her own red scarf - and Mike sets out to try and solve the heinous crime. As she investigates deeper, cracks between to emerge in Mike's own past until Mike eventually realises she needs to resolve her own personal trauma in order to reveal the mysteries of Jennifer's death. Add a sprinkling of stardust, several explanations of Schrodinger's cat, and you have the bare bones of Out of Blue.
It isn't just Mike Hoolihan who is reminiscent of the noir crime genre - Out of Blue utilises all the elements of a typical noir film. Morley constantly plays with lighting to create shadowy effect, multiple sequences depict Mike driving on endless roads and Mike drowns her sorrows (soft drinks only to begin with) in bars with an inquisitive journalist. The editing also matches this style - scenes are cut together at the click of one's fingers, characters disappear and reappear mysteriously and questions are left unanswered. Morley's characters are so often in the dark - physically and metaphorically as the the police precinct has unreliable electricity. The lights flicker in and out in a similarly constant fashion to Mike's confidence in her abilities to solve the case.
There are many elements of Out of Blue which feel out of place - the 60's style costuming of many of its characters (male and female) is one of the first jarring decisions. Yet, as the plot unravels, this look reinforces the cyclical nature of the crime Mike is investigating, as well as implying that some greater serendipitous forces are at work here.
Undeniably, Clarkson carries the film. A supporting cast of Toby Jones, Jacki Weaver, James Caan, Aaron Tveitt and Yolanda Ross are all excellent in their respective parts but the heavy lifting is done by Clarkson and she should be applauded as such. Clarkson is known for character parts, but the role of Mike Hoolihan is quite unlike anything that Clarkson has embarked on before. She translates effortlessly to this disgruntled detective, not ready to reconcile with her own past and struggling to battle her demons. Hoolihan is likeable, in the way that inaccessible heroes are often likeable, and it's hard to imagine anyone other than Clarkson playing a character with such balance.
The universe is not pristine or complete, and neither is Out of Blue. There are jarring moments, and it feels a little too long - an hour and a half may have served it better. Yet it would not be the same without those languishing shots of Mike driving along Atlanta highways nor would it drive it's audience to play detective themselves if the narrative reveal had been rushed.
With glorious wides of the cityscape at sunset, the circular narrative and a plot punctured by blonde women - Out of Blue becomes reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Both films feature a broken protagonist who must reconcile with their past in order to get to the heart of what is ahead of them. And, like Vertigo, it may take a second viewing to fully appreciate the layers that Morley presents us with in Out of Blue, and perhaps these layers might not materialise for everyone. Either way - Morley is giving us something unique and special in Out of Blue, something that’s not quite of this world.