Carol Morley’s first American film is her most ambitious work to date. There’s always been something intangible, almost slippery about her films (the wonderfully sad doc-drama Dreams of a Life and the mysterious girls’ school hysteria film The Falling) and this continues simmering in her latest, a cosmically-influenced noir detective story set in New Orleans.
Patricia Clarkson is the seen-it-all cop called Mike Hoolihan (“my whole life’s been homicide,” she shrugs) investigating the murder of an astronomist from a powerful local family. Amid southern-drawled talk of ‘stardust’ and “dark matter’’, it’s Mike’s universe that begins folding in on her as she gets drawn deeper in and is forced to examine a previous murder case.
There’s Southern Gothic here, with James Caan, Toby Jones and Jackie Weaver on grotesque, sweaty form, and a heightened visual palette that hinges on symbols like a red scarf or a broach – shades of Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams and, I thought, Bertrand Tavernier’s forgotten thriller In The Electric Mist.
It’s a mystery, all right, and you’re not quite sure what’s being investigated, so that might leave some viewers frustrated. Not me. Carol told me on the radio this morning that this was a story – from a Martin Amis novel, Night Train – that the late master Nic Roeg was interested in adapting many years ago (his son Luc is co-producer here). That’s actually a very helpful pointer – Nic was always interested in the unexplained, the supra-natural. Not all is explained in Out of Blue, but that’s the film’s triumph. You have to surrender to the atmosphere (and Clint Mansell’s score) and the strangeness and wade through the swamp of misogyny that disguises itself as politesse in Louisiana. It’s a powerful slug of bourbon poured into a sweet-tasting julep. And Clarkson’s great.