Acclaimed filmmaker and playwright Neil LaBute has one of the most unique voices in American Cinema. After a decade-long slump where he morphed into a director for hire of ridiculous Hollywood misfires (“Lakeview Terrace” and the abysmal remake of “The Wicker Man”) and many television shows, a return to form can be seen with his new erotic thriller “Out of the Blue”.
LaBute’s best works (“In the Company of Men”, “Your Friends and Neighbors”, & “The Shape of Things”) are sharply directed with sparse staging and dialogue so incisive and viciously scathing that the audience is left with bruised emotions.
“Out of the Blue” finds LaBute mostly successful in recapturing what makes him so unique.
In the small New England town of Twin Oaks, we find Connor (Ray Nicholson), a man who has recently been released from prison after doing three years for an assault charge. Now working as a librarian, he meets beautiful trophy wife Marilyn (Diane Kruger), a woman he learns is in an abusive marriage.
Both Connor and Marilyn are troubled souls, making their connection instant and strong as their flirtations soon become sexual liaisons.
Ray Nicholson (son of Jack) and Diane Kruger are excellent as the two leads. The actors find the right emotional and erotic balance as their dialogues together flow naturally while their many sex scenes are lustful and alive. There is a freeness found in the film’s sexuality and the actors fully commit.
It is important to see the sexual desires and actions of adults played out realistically. Thanks to a puritanically possessed America and a shy Hollywood system, it has been some time since an erotic film had actual eroticism held within.
As LaBute crafts his film as an homage to James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (the screenplay names the town after the diner/service station in Cain’s story), his uncanny ability to write realistically complicated sexual relationships between flawed people keeps the picture constantly involving.
Even Hank Azaria (as Connor’s parole officer) is this film’s Edward G. Robinson, and his superb performance is one of the pleasures of the piece. Azaria is vulgar and tough yet shows honest compassion for his client.
Adam Bosage’s score is lush and refreshingly old fashioned, echoing the best of John Barry’s work in the thriller genre. The music fits perfectly with LaBute’s noir aspirations, as does Walt Lloyd’s cinematography that uses the Springtime aura of Rhode Island locations very well. The sunny days and healthy green foliage are quite deceptive and exist as a facade for something much darker.
While the film always commands our full attention, it isn’t without a few problems.
Gia Crovatin’s lovestruck co-worker is strangely modeled after Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall, right down to the utterance of “La-Di-Da”. The character becomes a distraction as a reference to one of Woody Allen’s funniest and most iconic characters seems out of place in a film so grounded in neo-noir ambiance.
Fredrick Weller’s Deputy Fox is another character deficiency. The actor plays him as overly stern, and the performance comes off as goofy rather than the intended intimidation.
Later in the film, LaBute creates a pothole in his smoothly paved script when characters (who have sworn to take caution) speak of their crimes on the phone, and in great detail.
The scene is well written, and the conversation has potency, but the fact that these particular people would suddenly be so stupid as to speak of such incriminating details on a phone call is ridiculous.
Then comes the finale. When things fall apart for the characters, the film’s final act follows suit.
What was a smart screenplay stumbles with a boneheaded decision by one of its characters. This leads to a ridiculous moment that has us wondering if the director was tipping his hat to “good ol’ boy” chase films such as “The Great Texas Dynamite Chase” and “Aloha Bobby and Rose”; silly 70s Drive-In films that tricked the audience into feeling sympathy for their antiheroes.
It is a moment that I won’t spoil, but one that I can assure you does not work.
Yet LaBute has one last trick to pull, and his final reveal reclaims the cleverness of the film’s first half and rights the previously mentioned wrongs.
Neil LaBute has earned comparisons to David Mamet and with this screenplay, he reminds us why.
“Out of the Blue” works extremely well for most of its running time. The cast is dedicated and LaBute has settled back into crafting the types of flawed characters who leave a wake of emotional destruction behind them that he excels at creating.
Placing them in an erotic and noir-tinged thriller only adds to the effectiveness.
Out of the Blue
Written and directed by Niel LaBute
Starring Ray Nicholson, Diane Kruger, Hank Azaria, Fredrick Weller
R, 104 Miuntes, Buffalo 8 Productions/ BondIt Media Capital/ Quiver Distribution