Whiskey-Soaked Noir

Manhattan Night
(USA, 113 min.)
Written and directed by Brian DeCubellis
Starring: Adrien Brody, Yvonne Strahovski, Campbell Scott, Jennifer Beals, with Linda Lavin and Steven Berkoff
Yvonne Strahovski and Adrien Brody in Manhattan Night.
Pacific Northwest Pictures.

New York. Present day.

The streets are dark and the women are deadly. Back in the day, a guy knew when he was a mark and he knew who was makin' him.

Nowadays, it's all Twitter and iThings. Viral videos and hashtags. A gumshoe could spot a femme fatale beneath the nice words, but it's a whole new game now. Can't trust anyone.

Porter Wren (Adrien Brody) is a dying breed of sharp sniffers in the city that never sleeps.  The last of the Mohicans, they'd call him, if political incorrectness were the same as it was in the days of Sam Spade. Porter, a sharp, old school journalist was probably a detective in his past life as he tracks a scoop better than the top ranks of the fuzz follow the clues.

Porter’s life is a dime store novel. Call it Manhattan Night, in which he uses his investigatory journo sleuthing skills by moonlighting as a P.I. for extra cash. Enter Caroline (Yvonne Starhoski) a blond and innocent-looking dame with a sob story about a dead husband. Porter needs the bread since he knows that his cushy job as a columnist is on the edge since kids are moving in with their Twitters and their hashtags, and he’s just an old dinosaur. Mystery, seduction, intrigue, heaving bosom—what more could a guy desire?

Manhattan Night offers an atmospheric and stylish neo-noir that delves into the dangers of the digital age. The premise, like most noirs, is a little convoluted, but the murder at the centre of the case could easily be ripped from today’s headlines. The film uses new technology within its old-school style and tempo as Brody chronicles Wren’s jaded views on life in raspy voiceover and explores a case of hidden cameras, selfie culture, and the impermeable wall of anonymity afforded by new technology. Brody fits right into the role of the cynical and hardened gumshoe with a brooding sense of humour. He’s a fine bug-eyed, haggard anti-hero for the Big Apple as he plays public advocate while masking his own set of contradictions as a hustler and a Lothario whose risky business and womanising inevitably leads violence into his home. Jennifer Beals, meanwhile, brings some great moments to Manhattan Night in an underdeveloped role as Wren’s wife.

Strahovski, on the other hand, is a compelling screen presence as Caroline, although she doesn’t quite wear the two-faced mask the role requires and inevitably makes Manhattan Night fairly predictable. An utterly slimy performance from Campbell Scott as Caroline’s late husband, an award-winning filmmaker, however, makes one’s skin crawl and gives the femme fatale a cause for justifiable homicide as Manhattan Night reveals the might of a dangerous predator obsessed with his own image and the power that recorded evidence wields.

Manhattan Noir often struggles with pace as Wren moves at the speed of an incurable hangover, and the hard-boiled edge of the film recalls classic B-crime classics consumed at wee hours on late night TV. Writer/director Brian DeCubellis drenches Manhattan in a pulpy, whiskey-soaked atmosphere. One can smell the brown liquor permeating every frame.

Manhattan Noir opens in Toronto on August 26 at the Carlton.