Overview: Crime reporter Porter Wren (Adrien Brody) gets the story he’s been looking for when a young widow (Yvonne Strahovski) approaches him to solve the mysterious case of her dead husband (Campbell Scott). Lionsgate Premiere; 2016; Rated R; 153 minutes.
Usual Suspects: Film noir is one of the oldest genres around, and it’s rare to see a modern film set itself in that genre without attempting to subvert its tropes or shape itself to act as a love letter to it. Adapted from the 1996 novel Manhattan Nocturne, Manhattan Night is a film that doesn’t attempt to do any of that. Instead, writer/director Brian DeCubellis takes a simpler method and delivers a very standard noir film.
The film is quick to establish the not-so-unfamiliar world of the shady, crime-ridden streets of New York, juxtaposed with the formal and elegant world of the upperclassmen, whose mysteries and troubles are much more well-hidden than the everyday criminals. Enter Porter Wren, a shabby journalist covering crime among other latest happenings, as he internally monologues about his addiction to good stories. Despite being a family man himself, he gets entangled with an enigmatic femme fatale who has some clues to the mysterious death of her husband. With slight alteration, that basic premise can fit the description of any number of noir films. The tale of the weary character falling to the seduction of a person and/or a case and effectively destroying their lives in the process of the case is real staple in this genre, and it proves at least functional once again as it is used in this film to provide a solid foundation for a standard plot and a traceable arc for the lead character.
Private Dick: Brody does well with the basic archetype he’s given here, and delivers an understated performance. Strahovski doesn’t quite attain the presence that her character demands, which is why some of her scenes fall flat in their execution. The scene-stealer here is Campbell Scott, with his portrayal of the dead husband in brief but intriguing appearances in tape recordings and flashbacks. Scott’s minor moments as a slightly unhinged filmmaker are enthralling to watch. Most of the film’s moments of comedic relief come in scenes that he’s in or as jokes about film and celebrities, so his few spirited appearances spread throughout the mostly-solemn film were easily acceptable. Like his character, Scott just seems to be experimenting with different methods to use in his portrayal, and that really helps portray the character’s fluid mental stability.
Throughout most of the film, Wren goes to some depths to figure out and solve the mysteries surrounding the couple. Wren breaks the personal space of Strahovsky’s character in order to get the information she’s keeping from him, pushes the boundaries that his boss has set for him to protect his paper and his own reputation, and basically interrogates almost everyone for their stories. Privacy just doesn’t seem like an understandable concept with him. The flashbacks of Scott’s character act as a reflection of those as his character also plays manipulative games with his wife in order to test her and better understand her. It’s an interesting aspect to explore amongst the world of journalists and private detectives, but the film just illustrates the parallel without really divulging anything interesting about it.
Overall: Though shackled because of its ordinariness, Manhattan Night is, at the very least, an entertaining noir film with a case and a supporting character/victim that elevates it to a little bit more than your standard mystery of the week.
Featured Image: Lionsgate Premiere