'Manhattan Night': Film Review

An atmospheric but dubious eroto-mystery.

Adrien Brody plays a newspaperman drawn into an increasingly unlikely mystery.

A largely enjoyable neo-noir whose thick atmosphere works hard to cloak the increasingly contrived nature of its plot, Brian DeCubellis' Manhattan Night follows a newspaper columnist whose world crumbles surprisingly easily, given the right blonde. Adapting Colin Harrison's novel Manhattan Nocturnes, the pic is as self-consciously romantic as its original title suggests, its backward-looking aesthetic best embodied by a strings-and-piano score by Joel Douek that might well have accompanied one of the better 1980s attempts to reclaim the gloomy glamor of hard-boiled Hollywood. Not all elements work so well, though, and an unpersuasive ending will do little to help word-of-mouth for a theatrical run being underpromoted by Lionsgate Premiere. 

Brody plays Porter Wren, a newspaperman whose fame around town is rather hard to buy in 2016 — "You found the little girl," he hears from everyone he meets, in reference to a cold case he once solved. He's approached at a party by Caroline (Yvonne Strahovski), who has something to show him back at her apartment. Porter's wife (Jennifer Beals) is a knockout and a brilliant surgeon to boot, and they're raising two kids in a tucked-away Manhattan paradise, but he goes home with the blonde anyway.

There, in addition to the illicit pleasures we're expecting him to find, Porter is handed a mystery: The unsolved murder of Caroline's husband Simon, an eccentric filmmaker with a habit of testing his wife's reactions to extreme situations and keeping footage of the results. (In plentiful flashbacks, Simon is played by Campbell Scott, who is made up to look so godawful — and differently so, from one scene to the next — we expect a subplot in which he has an incurable disease.)

Simon kept footage of many things, including something very valuable to Mr. Hobbs (Steven Berkoff), a Rupert Murdoch-inspired tycoon who just bought Porter's newspaper. As if it weren't enough that he could fire him, Hobbs is soon making very exotic threats to Porter's family to convince him to find a memory card Hobbs is sure Caroline is using to blackmail him.

David Tumblety's gauzy photography and a gravel-flecked voiceover by Brody keep us on board well into Porter's investigation. But any viewer put off by the preciousness of the demands Simon (who was a celebrated filmmaker) put on Caroline during their brief marriage may well be tittering by the end — when they learn what exactly the billionaire is trying to cover up, how the director met his end, and how this ambivalent femme fatale wound up in her present predicament.

Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere
Production companies: Fable House, Untravelled Worlds, DeCubellis Films
Cast: Adrien Brody, Yvonne Strahovski, Jennifer Beals, Campbell Scott, Steven Berkoff, Linda Lavin
Director-screenwriter: Brian DeCubellis
Producers: Adrien Brody, Brian DeCubellis, Steven Klinsky
Executive producers: Tannaz Anisi, Sandy Climan, Thomas Guida
Director of photography: David Tumblety
Production designer: Lisa Myers
Costume designers: Havi Elkaim, Justine Seymour
Editor: Andy Keir
Composer: Joel Douek
Casting directors: Sig De Miguel, Stephen Vincent

Rated R, 113 minutes