As many great contemporary novelists have discovered, film adaptations often fall short. Martin Amis is one such victim, with The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies and London Fields all withering in the cinema. Perhaps the intricate prose of Amis and his postmodern style is just unsuited to the big screen; paring back his stories to mere plot just feels reductive.
So it’s refreshing to see a more daring approach in Carol Morley’s new film, Out of Blue. The film is based on Amis’ 1997 novella Night Train, which itself was a comic parody of detective fiction. At the time, the late, great Nicolas Roeg was planning to adapt it, and eventually it was his son, Luc Roeg, who encouraged Morley to have a crack at Amis’ words.
The result is a very curious film – a movie that’s as distinct in its own way as Morley’s earlier works. From The Alcohol Years to the sublime Dreams of a Life and The Falling, she’s a British filmmaker with an extremely unique voice and that continues here in what is her first film on American soil. A female-driven film noir, if not quite as gritty as Karyn Kusama’s recent Destroyer, it also boasts a fabulous lead in the shape of Patricia Clarkson.
Set in New Orleans (the original book was an unidentifiable American city), Clarkson plays Detective Mike Hoolihan, who is the lead on a rather grim case that saw the brutal murder of a renowned astrophysicist named Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer) that took place in her own observatory. Among the suspects are Toby Jones’ fellow scientist Prof. Ian Strammi (a playful anagram of Martin Amis).
Featuring James Caan and Jacki Weaver as Rockwell’s unhinged parents, Hoolihan’s investigations lead her into an increasingly troubled space – every bit as dark as the black holes that Rockwell is an expert in. There are references to real-life science (the Schrödinger’s cat theory in particular) which may baffle some, and Out of Blue can be a real head-scratcher. But borrowing just enough from Amis, this is an oddball ride that seems destined for cult status.
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