In Out of Blue, Patricia Clarkson plays Mike Hoolihan, a hardboiled, troubled homicide detective. She is called to investigate the death of astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer), who was found dead by gunshot in her observatory. Rockwell had just held an open lecture about
black holes and exploding stars being the source of all life the night before.
The manner of her death, as well as a single sock left at the crime scene, lead to suspicions that an old serial killer referred to as the .38 Caliber Killer has returned after decades of inactivity, but other suspects emerge: a timid colleague (Toby Jones), whose face is mysteriously bruised the day of the discovery of Rockwell’s body; and Rockwell’s partner (Jonathan Majors), who arrives for interrogation wearing just one sock that matches the one found in the crime scene.
Instead of just being a standard police procedural about Hoolihan’s investigation of Rockwell’s death, the movie has an added metaphysical layer on top of it, with big ideas discussed about the universe and our existence within it. There’s a recurring joke about Schrödinger’s cat, and one character is obsessed with the idea of parallel universes, that the universe we live in exist alongside an infinite number of alternate universes. Hoolihan is something of an enigma herself. She has no memory, with some unspecified childhood trauma hinted. She sees things, or people, that may or not be there.
The movie’s attempt to create a dreamlike atmosphere unfortunately falls flat. It has glacial pacing that is achieved mainly by having characters do things really slowly, and it’s grating. Hoolihan stands around by her car, slowly opens it, slowly gets in, sits in it for a few seconds before someone approaches; she walks into an interrogation room and takes her time walking to her chair, almost like she has hip problems. The clunky dialogue is also spoken with unusually slow delivery at times, to a point where some conversations feel as if the actors are still trying to find where they are on the script.
It doesn’t help that there is hardly any characterization or chemistry between the characters to liven up the dialogue. There could be the argument that this is done deliberately to add to the dreamlike qualities of the film, similar to the dull characterization in Marc Forster’s Stay, but at least that movie had a good reason.
Clarkson is terrific in the lead role, quietly powerful and restrained, and there are some strong supporting performances from Jacki Weaver and James Caan as the parents of the victim. There are some beautiful and evocative neo-noir style imagery and ambitious ideas being brought up, but unfortunately none of that can save what is ultimately a tedious mismash of psychology and metaphysics draped over an uninteresting whodunit.
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An ambitious attempt at thought-provoking neo-noir that only results in a painfully slow and flavorless affair.
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