Crystal Rose reviews Out of Blue  starring Patricia Clarkson and James Caan, on at The Little Theatre Cinema until 11 April
When leading astrophysicist and black hole specialist Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer) is murdered, New Orleans homicide detective Mike Hoolihan begins her quest for the truth. Directed by Carol Morley, Out of Blue is a reworking of a Martin Amis crime novel Night Train.
As the film starts, we’re instantly transported from outer space to a New Orleans rooftop observatory where we meet soon-to-be-victim Rockwell discussing stars and black holes.
“You can tell a lot by looking” are Rockwell’s famous last words, which reverberates through the rest of the film as the details of the murder are revealed. Found on the observatory floor, surrounded by sporadic clues (a sock, a pot of cream and her shoe), her death has a number of prime suspects: her lover and parallel universe-obsessed academic Duncan J Reynolds (Jonathan Majors), Dr Ian Strammi (Toby Jones) – sporting a mammoth mouth abscess that just won’t go away – and members of Rockwell’s family: jittery mother (Jacki Weaver), war-hero father (James Caan) and her troublesome twin brothers Bray and Walt (Todd and Brad Mann).
Hard-edged detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) begins having flashbacks, hallucinations and dream-visions as she gets caught-up in her mission to find the truth – an unusual thing for a detective who “never gets affected” by her cases. As her view of the world destabilises, the homicide detective becomes confused and troubled as the case gets under her skin, causing dizzy spells and fainting.
During Hoolihan’s investigation, a darker world is revealed as fragments of a frustratingly slower wider conspiracy start to come together, bit by bit. Brenda Lee’s 1962 hit I’ll Be Seeing You resonates hauntingly throughout, as links to the .38 Caliber Killer (a serial murderer from the past) are made.
Mike (a recovering alcoholic with no clear memories of her younger years) starts to recollect her childhood. We witness the detective following “a trail of clues leading closer and closer to this black hole’s dark heart,” (a few more of Rockwell’s final words) and feel that she may be on the edge of uncovering an awful truth. Searching for answers, in the same way as Rockwell did with the stars, Mike is surrounded by reminders of what was: the mesmerising blue bead around her neck, Jennifer’s red silk scarf and her beautiful shimmering brooch.
James Caan’s performance fitted the war-hero role perfectly – mysterious, dark and much more to him than meets the eye. Adorning a walking stick, recognisable hat and an air of authority, the colonel is an intriguing character to say the least. Similarly, Toby Jones played the clever-clogs professor that added a touch of much-needed humour to the film with his painful and only-getting-worse-by-the-scene mouth abscess – especially after a whack right on target by Colonel Tom Rockwell (James Caan).
In complete neo-noir style, there are twisted plots and plenty of mysteries to get stuck into, including the odd ‘eh?’ moment. There’s talk of black holes, parallel universes, cosmical astronomy and Schrödinger’s cat (an experiment about a hypothetical cat that may be simultaneously alive and dead – could this be a link to homicide detective Hoolihan?). It’s predictable at times, as we try to figure out whodunit and there’s plenty of fragments to assume and piece together – even at the end.
Out of Blue is rich in visual metaphor and there are plenty of clues to be drawn: references to New Orleans as “the city that forgot” and the brand of moisturising cream Hydra – (the many-headed serpent in Greek mythology) and a possible hint at additional universes. There’s so much more than what is seen on the surface. Almost certainly a film to re-watch to absorb every element of the drama to the full.
To be honest, we left The Little Theatre feeling a little confused and needing some time to process it all. There’s an idea for a feature film about two troubled women visiting the big screen and unravelling the complex story long after the film had finished.