Manhattan Night’s a movie that’s really hard to write about…because it’s so unbearably forgettable. Even with notes, I’m having trouble thinking of an interesting way to say it’s quite simply, not very good. It isn’t one of the worst movies around, but it’s also a movie that is so severally anemic, there are moments when you feel you could just get up and walk away without missing very much. Not good for a movie that’s supposed to be a thriller.
And a thriller that’s trying desperately to save a specific style of detective noir that’s been lost in Hollywood. The smoke-filled streets, the overcoats, the horrible narration…all from a time gone by. A time when newspapers could provide a great living to a weekly (WEEKLY) columnist. That’s our hero, Porter, a writer who seems to have too much free time to devote to a hollow mystery that lacks suspense or intrigue, but does allow him to cheat on his saintly wife with a woman whose husband just died. And while the movie over indulges in sex and violence in tacky ways, it is so lifeless and lacking meaningful depth, it feels more like a 90s Cinemax movie.
Porter’s played by Adrien Brody, an actor who is great for these types of noir-esque roles; but horribly miscast here. There is a moment when he talks about being the type of person people will open up to, but that’s a huge leap of faith asked of the audience, considering the character he’s playing. Yvonne Strahovski is fine in the femme fatale role; she certainly has the right look for the role and uses some of that steely cleverness from Chuck and Dexter to her advantage here. She even shows an unexpected vulnerability for a moment or two on-screen. In smaller roles, Jennifer Beals is wasted almost entirely as Brody’s wife, while Campbell Scott is memorably strange (but kind of ridiculous) as Strahovski’s husband.
The film is based on Colin Harrison’s novel “Manhattan Nocturne” (written in 1996) and the film’s decision to avoid updating it or making it a true period piece is a massive error. This movie has no concept of real-world challenges this kind of character would face, yet the characters are using the most current technologies of the day. Porter occasionally mentions being out of his time, but we never see a struggle the way it was a burden for Elliot Gould in a film like The Long Goodbye (which this movie owes a lot). But even worse than that, the intriguing pleasure of a mystery novel, which relishes providing perspective and detail in the writing, is lost here. The movie wants to use its slow pace to make the film seem dark and mysterious, but it becomes unbearably plodding. All suspense is lost, and there comes a point when you not only forget about the initial mystery…but why you should care at all.
There is one other issue I have with this limp noodle of a movie. There is a look to the movie which one can appreciate. It’s certainly stylish and there’s technical proficiency behind the camera. But why on earth would writer-director Brian DeCubellis ever choose to use video footage and then cut to a flashback of that scene, rather than use the found footage for some real impact? I almost never advocate for found footage, but if you’re going to make it a key plot point at least prove that the characters would know by seeing the same thing. It proves to be a massive mistake in a film full of missteps.