Anxious for a juicy film noir like they used to make in the great days of battered Bogart, wet trenchcoats and dry martinis, I headed for Manhattan Night with naive anticipation, temporarily forgetting how movies have changed. Nobody knows how to make a good thriller anymore. The goons are running the penny arcade now, and they don’t want it fresh, believable, clever or coherent. They just want it Tuesday.
MANHATTAN NIGHT ★
Written and directed by: Brian DeCubellis
The rags of the amateurs show shamefully in Manhattan Night. A first feature by writer-director Brian DeCubellis, another recruit from television, it begins with promise. Weird-looking, scarecrow-skinny Adrien Brody plays Porter Wren, a muckraking columnist for a sleazy New York tabloid who covers the world of “mayhem, scandal and doom.” With three deadlines a week, he’s always searching for a sensational angle, even if he has to empty a garage bag or turn over a rock to find one. In a digital world dominated by iPhones, You Tube, Twitter, hashtags and instant internet gratification, it’s harder to get and hold attention with good, suspenseful writing and the tradition of newspaper esteem is doomed anyway. But one night in a bar, Porter hits pay dirt when he meets Caroline Crowley (Yvonne Strahovski), the beautiful widow of famous film director Simon Crowley (Campbell Scott), whose body was found surrounded by pieces of jade. When she offers to share the intriguing contents of a private and confidential police report about her husband’s mysterious unsolved murder, Porter imagines the kind of journalism fame that could lead to a book—or a better gig with a bigger newspaper.
He sets out in the midnight streets of New York, where it is always raining, visits the vacant lot where Simon’s body was dumped, and after what seems like an interminable series of red herrings where nothing happens, the road leads to a film Caroline has been searching for in vain—a secret rendezvous that depicts oral sex between her and the fat, ugly, bald and powerful mogul who has purchased the tabloid Porter works for. A tsunami of questions blows across the muddled action in a screenplay that provides no answers, and the eventual mess that unravels defies credibility to the closing credits.
Was Caroline a split personality—half whore, half bold-faced socialite? Why was she in bed with the evil mogul in the first place? Nothing in the way of character development ever clarifies her. What convinced wonderful Linda Lavin to appear in a tangential cameo with only two brief scenes, as a matron who is hiding the sex tape? Why does Porter surrender to a sexual assignation with the phantom-like allure of Caroline, risking his marriage (to a wasted Jennifer Beals, no less) in the interest of research? What significance is implied by a flashback of Caroline chained by the ankle and dragged to the edge of an empty elevator shaft where the only key is in the possession of her husband, who is already dead? How did she unlock the chain before she falls to her death? How did his body get from their penthouse to the alley? None of it makes any sense, which leaves the columnist more bewildered than ever. Even if it appeared in print, nobody would believe his “scoop” anyway.
At the conclusion, I was so baffled that I consulted a small group of critics loitering outside the screening room. The consensus was that none of them understood it either. So although it has a calm and intriguing noir-ish style (up to a point), there is nothing lucid enough to recommend about Manhattan Night, including the film itself.