Even in a formulaic thriller like the Canadian film October Gale, Patricia Clarkson is always a welcome sight to fatten up slim material and add ballast to plot dynamics. She does both here, reuniting with Ruba Nadda, the writer-director of her solid romantic drama Cairo Time. They work well together again, although the second time around doesn’t exactly break new ground.
OCTOBER GALE ★★
Written and directed by: Ruba Nadda
Fresh from her stage triumph opposite Bradley Cooper in the Broadway revival of The Elephant Man, the reliable star plays Dr. Helen Matthews, a Toronto internist still grieving over the death of her husband in a boating accident. Part of her recuperation is to leave her patients in a colleague’s capable hands, escape the city and open up the rustic country cottage on a remote island, accessible only by motor launch, where the couple spent so many happy summers together. Away from worldly cares, city noise and professional responsibility, she plans to cook, read, relax and think, interrupted only by the cry of an occasional loon.
Suddenly and violently, her reverie is shattered by a storm and the arrival of a mysterious young man named William (Canadian heartthrob Scott Speedman) who washes ashore covered with blood and half-dead from a gunshot wound. Reluctantly but humanely, she nurses him back to health, not realizing he’s done some time in prison for an accidental death in a bar fight, and is now being stalked by the victim’s brother (Tim Roth), a vicious killer whose sole focus is revenge. Stranded and alone in the gale, with no cellphone signal and her motorboat docked for engine repairs, Helen is forced into crisis mode, her only chance of survival to trust one killer over another.
The material is not exceptional, but Ms. Clarkson always is. She’s that rare actress over 50 who seems to land a lot of the juicy roles her younger competitors covet. Working to bring stale material to life, she constructs a real character out of the underwritten pieces of director Ms. Nadda’s sketchy screenplay with dignity, strength and maturity. As the first scary, then endearing intruder, Mr. Speedman continues his reputation of doing what’s right for every role he plays, even though up to now, he regrettably has always played a second banana. The two of them are unmatched in age, sensibility and craft, but never less than convincing, even in one awkward kiss that goes nowhere.
The ending is unresolved and left dangling. Shot in Georgian Bay, Ontario, October Gale features picturesque scenery, crisply photographed by Jeremy Benning, and composed in shots that could pass for glossy tourist postcards. The two stars are pretty to look at, but Canada is hard to upstage.