There was a time when pulpy New York noirs were a popular genre. Claustrophobic and edgy, movies like “Scarlet Street,” “The Dark Corner” and “The Naked City” exposed the Big Apple’s dirty urban underbelly in gritty and entertaining ways. It’s been sometime since we’ve taken a cinematic walk on NYC’s wild side, so a 50’s style noir placed on present day Manhattan streets should be a welcome thing, right? “Manhattan Night” is a based on author Colin Harrison’s award winning New York Times Notable Book of the Year “Manhattan Nocturne.”
“I sell fear, scandal and mayhem,” says investigative reporter Porter Wren (Adrien Brody). “I sell newspapers. With three deadlines a week, I’m always looking for a good story.” It is that search that leads him to Caroline Crowley (Yvonne Strahovski), a femme fatale with a murdered husband (Campbell Scott) and a favour to ask. She uses her seductive powers to convince him to use his skill to find out who offed her husband. Smelling a good story, Wren becomes infatuated with her and investigates the case placing his marriage and life in danger.
Director Brian DeCubellis certainly knows his way around the genre. “Manhattan Night” is ripe with blackmail, danger, moral ambiguity, slick city streets and abuses of power. It hits all the right notes but seems slightly out of tune, like a cover version of a popular song that doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original.
Brody is suitably world-weary and Strahovski is mysterious and dangerously seductive. Both are stereotypes that feel airlifted in from another, better, movie. As far as the baddies go, Scott nails it as the troubled and threatening husband, a man who projects his neurosis on everyone around him. He’s over the top, chewing the scenery to such an extent you fear he might actually gnaw through the screen, but at least he’s captures the eye. Ditto Steven Berkoff as a Murdoch-esque media baron who seems to exists to add an unsavoury element to an already grubby affair.
As “Manhattan Night” slowly winds its way toward its anti-climatic final scenes it becomes clear that no amount of stylish direction or outrageous characters can make up for the far-fetched and convoluted story.