Out of Blue: Parallel Mysteries

Patricia Clarkson on a Cosmic Case

Out of Blue
***
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
Stars:
Patricia Clarkson, Toby Jones, James Caan, Jacki Weaver, Mamie Gummer
Writer/Director: Carol Morley

            Infused with cosmic questions about black holes, parallel universes and quantum mechanics, Out of Blueclearly wants to be something more than a murder mystery. But an intriguing plot, a moody New Orleans setting, and superb performances from a cast headed by Patricia Clarkson keep tugging this excellent filmnoirback to Earth — and that’s all for the best.

            Clarkson plays a hangdog homicide cop named, for reasons unexplained, Mike. In a long career, she’s seen too many bodies and the bottoms of too many bottles of gin. The gunshot death of a noted astrophysicist named Jennifer (Mamie Gummer, getting more screen time here than most movie murder victims) at first seems, for Mike, just the latest chapter in a numbing lifetime of other people’s brutal ends. 

            But something about the crime scene — a rooftop observatory — sets Mike on edge. The murder seems to mimic those of a serial killer whose unsolved string of crimes ended abruptly decades earlier. Methodically, Mike begins questioning Jennifer’s colleagues — a collection of eggheads who insist on placing the astrophysicist’s death within the context of arcane scientific theories. 

            It’s in these scenes that Out of Blueattempts to transcend your garden-variety murder mystery and enter the realm of the unknowable. The scientists, led by an annoying little man played by Toby Jones — who has cornered the market on annoying little men — are disturbingly philosophical about the whole thing. After all, one explains, if there are infinite universes parallel to this one, then only one version of Jennifer has died. There are a lot more Jennifers where that came from.

            In earlier years, movie detectives hearing this sort of stuff would have rolled their eyes — one can imagine Dirty Harry or Sam Spade growling out some disdainful rejoinder like “The only parallel universe I see is the one where you’re frying in the electric chair, Buddy.” 

But Mike takes the notion to heart. Maybe it’s her gnawing sense of unease with this particular case. Or maybe it’s because, as of late, ceiling lights flash on and off whenever she enters a room. Or perhaps it’s due to the fact that she’s been seeing dark visions of obscure clues.

Clarkson is, as always, riveting as the cop. Few actors so capably draw the audience into their character’s psyche: Sitting in a patrol car staring through the windshield, Clarkson engages with us in some sort of telepathic communication, transmitting her character’s thought process. Mike’s eventual actions may take us by surprise, but they are immediately understandable: She has already wordlessly explained them to us. 

Director Carol Morley has assembled a superb supporting cast, and she allows each of her actors plenty of room to let their characters breathe. James Caan, as Jennifer’s father, seamlessly slips back and forth through the filmy barrier that separates the grieving dad from the prime suspect. As his distraught wife, Jacki Weaver alternately breaks your heart and scares the dickens out of you. And Jonathan Majors (Hostiles) keeps the viewer off-balance as the victim’s boyfriend who, whether or not he’s the killer here, could certainly be the culprit in one of the alternate universes he’s so fond of discussing. 

Out of Blue spends a bit more time than it should focusing on the realm of the multiverse, but that’s only because it comes at the expense of the crackerjack mystery at its heart. By the time Mike understands that the solution to the puzzle is as much within her as it is in her evidence file, we couldn’t care less about transpersonal psychology and black holes. We’ve got our killer. 

It appears the thirst for a juicy ending holds true no matter what alternate reality you’re in. 

Published by

Bill Newcott

Award-Winning Film Critic, TV Host and Creator of AARP's Movies For Grownups, Bill focuses on movies that have something to say...and a unique way of saying it

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