The latest from British director Carol Morley is a detective story, but do not let this generic description fool you; it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. The murder investigation that sets the story in motion begins in the familiar register of the matter-of-fact procedural, but it isn’t long before Morley takes us on a journey far off the beaten track, deploying an enigmatic style all her own.
Our anchor through this trip into the unknown, and the heart of this beguiling film, is New Orleans detective Mike Hoolihan, played with magnetic gusto by Patricia Clarkson. As demonstrated by her recent award-winning turns in The Party and Sharp Objects, backed up by a remarkable career, Clarkson’s sly smile and refined manners conceal an unmistakable strength. Out Of Blue beautifully plays with this subtle combination of toughness and sensitivity, as Hoolihan gets to draw from both sides of Clarkson’s persona.
This tough cop talks and moves like a woman undisturbed by her work, but never left cold by it. Listening to her intuition, patient enough to let the clues reveal themselves to her, Hoolihan seems to be in touch with things beyond the easily seen. From the very beginning of her examination of the murder of astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer), she’s struck by an unusual sensation, a sense of déjà vu that she can’t seem to shake.
In brief flashes, we see glimpses of another story, from another time and another life, a distant memory that sneaks up on Hoolihan before she can see it coming. Composer Clint Mansell (Black Swan, Moon, High-Rise) delivers yet another immersive score, which seems to be the gentle hum that guides Hoolihan through her investigation, the galactic vibration she tunes in to. Growing obsessed with the cosmic dimensions of the case, she’s carried way past her comfort zone and into dangerous territory.
In her search for the truth, Hoolihan brushes against colourful characters, each from different walks of life and with their own dirty secrets. Morley surrounds Clarkson with striking faces and personalities that stand out from the control and cool of her heroine’s method. Jacki Weaver’s turn as the victim’s restless mother stands in unsettling contrast with James Caan’s cold-hearted composure as family patriarch Tom Rockwell, the legendary actor’s unreadable expressions hinting at pains and heartaches long buried but never forgotten. Toby Jones brings his distinctive drawl and awkward persona to bear as a key suspect, but Morley also casts exciting young talents to watch out for, such as Jonathan Majors, Devyn A. Tyler, Aaron Tveit and Meryl Streep’s real-life daughter Gummer, who all leave a distinctive impression. Together, they help Morley paint a truly original picture, as ominous as it is alluring.
Based on Martin Amis’ novel Night Train, Out Of Blue remains Morley’s own creation, a neo-noir murder mystery that bridges the gap between the painful reality of our daily lives and the existential dimension of being. After Dreams Of A Life and The Falling, this new film marks her out as one of the most distinctive and ingenious British film-makers working today.
Out Of Blue is out 29 March.