Patricia Clarkson

Out of Blue

01/04/19

Out of Blue is a bit of a conundrum, a real curate’s egg of a film. At times, its audacity is breathtakingly impressive; at others, its pretentious incoherence is, well, kind of annoying.

Patricia Clarkson is Detective Mike Hoolihan, a genre-typical detective with an alcohol problem and a troubled past. When astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer) is found dead next to her telescope, Mike notices similarities to a series of unsolved murders by the so-called .38 calibre killer. As she investigates, long-repressed childhood memories begin to resurface, and her composure fractures, leaving her vulnerable and exposed.

So far, so good, but of course Carol Morley was never going to embrace a straightforward whodunit crime procedural. Instead, we are treated to a philosophical musing on the nature of our place in the universe, looking outwards into the infinite vastness of a black hole, and inwards to the personal experiences that shape who we become. Stylistically, this works: the cinematography is sumptuous, and the blue-red colour palette is bold and arresting. But the endless banging on about Schrödinger’s cat gets a bit wearisome; this is entry level stuff given unwarranted gravitas. And the suggestion of parallel universes seems an unnecessary complication, adding little and muddying the plot.

I like the plot, actually, with its twisty ending (although presumably that’s down to Martin Amis, on whose novel this is based), and Patricia Clarkson’s performance is admirable here. Toby Jones is a welcome addition to any movie, and his depiction of Rockwell’s snivelling boss, Professor Ian Strammi, is no exception to this rule. Jacki Weaver never disappoints either, and she’s on top form as Rockwell’s flaky mother. But even these fine actors are not quite enough to save this film from its own sense of how clever it is. It’s all a bit show-offy for my taste.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield

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The Party

26/10/17

Shot in stark (and very unforgiving) black and white and confined pretty much to one set, The Party feels like the kind of thing that Mike Leigh has done so brilliantly in the past – indeed, if it resembles one of his works in particular, it certainly has echoes of Abigail’s Party about it. With a sprightly running time of one hour and eleven minutes, this film, written and directed by Sally Potter, canters amiably along but, though it can’t be accused of overstaying its welcome, it never entirely manages to blow you away.

Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) is in the mood to celebrate. She’s just been appointed shadow health minister for the ‘opposition’ and has invited some close friends around for vol au vents and bubbly. They are: her snarky best friend, April (Patricia Clarkson), and her partner, the hippy-dippy faith healer, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz); feminist university lecturer, Martha (Cherry Jones) ,and her wife, Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who is currently expecting the patter of er… little triplets; and, definitely the odd one out at this gathering, handsome young property developer, Tom (Cillian Murphy), who explains that his wife, Marianne, will be ‘along later for dessert… or maybe just coffee.’ But it’s not destined to be a happy occasion, because Janet’s morose husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), has something he really needs to get off his chest…

Relentlessly middle class in its themes, the story is mostly about people being unfaithful to one another and, though the performances are generally pretty good, the protagonists cannot seem to help slipping into caricature. April can’t open her mouth without insulting somebody, Martha and Jinny say things in public that any rational person would surely save for later on, and Gottfried is so glib it hurts – but then maybe that’s entirely the point of him. Only Tom seems to have convincing reasons to act the way he does and, indeed, Murphy’s performance is the strongest one here – a man driven by jealousy to do something unspeakable.

Mind you, there’s a conclusion that I really don’t see coming and, all in all, this film makes a decent antidote to the steady diet of superhero movies we’re constantly being offered. I can’t help feeling though, that given the same set up and the same cast of characters, Leigh would have knocked this out of the park.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney