Friday, 20 November 2020

Movie Review: The Night Clerk (2020)

A crime drama and character study, The Night Clerk tantalizes with some intriguing potential but after a bright start loses steam instead of building momentum. 

Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan) is a socially awkward 23 year old with Asperger's syndrome, working as an overnight hotel clerk and living with his mother Ethel (Helen Hunt). He voyeuristically snoops on hotel guests through hidden miniature cameras, using mimicry to improve his conversational skills. Through his cameras Bart witnesses an escalating argument involving hotel guest Karen and an unknown man. He rushes to the scene but when the police arrive Karen is dead and Bart is a potential suspect. 

He hides the video evidence from Detective Espada (John Leguizamo), who does not have enough evidence to make an arrest despite pressure from Karen's husband Nick. Relocated to another hotel, Bart meets guest Andrea Rivera (Ana de Armas), who appears lonely and treats him kindly. Bart is love struck, but Andrea is hiding her own secrets.

An independent production written and directed by Michael Cristofer, the first act of The Night Clerk carries promising echoes of a small scale Rear Window. A disadvantaged man passes the time observing others, only to witness a crime and become embroiled in the dangerous affairs of strangers. But while the opening third is engaging, the middle sags and the ending is clumsy, Cristofer unable to sustain the early impetus despite a crisp running time of just 90 minutes.

The context-setting, characters introductions and premise of voyeurism as a learning tool are all sharply delivered. But after the murder is committed, the crime investigation elements are incongruously neutralized to allow Bart and Andrea to get to know each other. The tone transition defangs the drama and sucks energy out of the narrative. Cristofer eventually cycles back to the antagonists and the investigation, but the conclusion is both rushed and bungled, and arrives too late to reignite thrust. Some key character relationships apparently primed for surprise reveals are also easy to spot. 

In a committed performance Tye Sheridan captures quirky awkwardness within Asperger's mannerisms, and introduces measures of pathos as Bart experiences the full force of first infatuation. Ana de Armas enjoys a few complex scenes as Andrea questions her actions and motives, but the supporting cast remains stiff.

The Night Clerk stays awake, but it's an uneven shift.



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