Despite a talented cast, writer/director Brian DeCubellis’ weak script falters Manhattan Night from becoming the dark and twisted noir it is so desperately wants to be.
Adapted from the Colin Harrison novel Manhattan Nocturne, the film stars Adrian Brody (The Pianist) as Porter Wren, a former investigative reporter-turned-newspaper columnist. After meeting Caroline Crowley (Yvonne Strahovski), the widow of a famous film director, Porter agrees to investigate the mysterious death of her husband. Manhattan Night also features performances by Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, TV’s The L Word) as Porter’s wife; Campbell Scott (The Amazing Spiderman, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) as Caroline’s husband, Simon Crowley; and veteran actor Steven Berkoff (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon) as the billionaire business tycoon Hobbs, who has recently purchased the newspaper that Porter writes for.
Beginning with the very first lines of Porter’s voiceover in the film’s opening sequence, the dialogue is a perfect fusion of cliché and overt exposition. Brody and Strahovski in particular are at their best when they don’t say anything at all – suddenly there seems to be room for them to give their characters a hint of genuine humanity. They’re good actors, but they don’t have much to work with.
The basic premise of the plot is so flimsy, that it’s difficult to believe that the stakes are truly high enough for the characters to act the way that they do. It’s also never clear exactly why Caroline enters into the sort of relationship with Simon that she does. The complexities of her marriage are certainly rich with potential and a better film would have taken the time to explore the psychology of both husband and wife. We don’t learn anything about Simon as a person, besides that he is “brilliant” and “twisted”, making it impossible to understand why anything in the film is happening in the first place since his actions are meant to be the cause of the central conflict. Is Simon experiencing trauma? Mental illness? Is this part of a project he is working on or some essential aspect of his creative process? Manhattan Night isn’t certain, and neither are we.
Much of Porter’s investigation of Simon’s death involves watching snippets of candid film that the director shot before his death; the found footage elements of the film are intriguing from a cinematography standpoint, but the execution is lazy. There could have been a more profound thematic reason for incorporating these sequences, but instead they often morph into flashbacks that are shot in the same manner as the film’s main story arc. Additional problems include an inconsistent soundtrack that incorporates both jazz-style numbers and contemporary synth-pop without any sort of method to the madness, and an absence of a central theme at the film’s core.
All of the necessary elements of the noir genre are here: blackmail, mystery, murder, seduction – but Manhattan Night combines them into little more than an incoherent mess.
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