Based on the novel by Colin Harrison, Manhattan Night follows Porter Wren (Adrien Brody), a newspaper columnist who’s not particularly excited about his future. His paper’s publishing company has been bought out by a foreign billionaire, and he’s dissatisfied with his domestic life, despite his loving wife (Jennifer Beals) and two young kids.
Porter encounters Caroline Crowley (Yvonne Strahovski) at a cocktail party one night; she is the gorgeous young widow of Simon Crowley, an enigmatic film director who died under mysterious circumstances. The seductive Caroline manages to get romantically involved with Porter, partially because she believes that he is the only one who can solve the case of her husband’s death. However, she’s hiding a dark past, and her late husband has left behind dozens of video memory cards that could point to possible clues. Caroline implores Porter to look through the video files, and most of them lead nowhere. Still, what Porter discovers or doesn’t discover could come back to hurt him, his career, and his family.
I had modest expectations for Manhattan Night (I rented it on Redbox). I’ve long been a big fan of Strahovski’s work in both film and TV, and I think Brody and Beals are also extremely talented individuals. I had heard about the film (and the novel it was based on), but was surprised to see that the studio gave it a straight-to-DVD release at the last minute, as opposed to a theatre run.
Considering that straight-to-DVD films are normally bottom-of-the-barrel garbage, I was skeptical that a film with a solid premise and an acclaimed source novel would be given that treatment. Apparently, Manhattan Night received mixed to negative reception, so I was trying to factor that in, as well.
Manhattan Night does succeed in several different ways – the performances are solid all-around, the script is (mostly) good, and I was very interested in the storyline. There are some fairly suspenseful moments, and I felt like director Brian DeCubellis gave the film a real sense of neo-noir mystery about it. I also really enjoyed the cinematography.
However, the film is not immune to a lot of romantic thriller pitfalls. I hesitate to call Manhattan Night an “erotic thriller” because, frankly, that genre can go die in a fire. With that being said, the film does have a couple of plot twists, many of which are hit-or-miss, and the ending was anti-climactic in a lot of ways. Don’t misunderstand me – it’s not laughably bad or eye-roll-worthy, but I did feel let down at the end of the film.
I do believe that these actors did their best, and I don’t think that Manhattan Night deserved the straight-to-DVD treatment, but there were a lot of moments in this film that just didn’t work as well as they could have. And I get it – a lot of books have situations or sequences that really don’t translate to the screen as well as they could. That’s why a lot of book adaptations don’t achieve the same level of acclaim as the source material – this is universal and applies to all sorts of cinema genres.
Manhattan Night certainly has its moments, and I don’t regret seeing it at all, but this film could have done a lot more with the best-selling material it had, and some of the more emotionally weighty scenes just weren’t executed as well as they could have been.
Directed by Brian DeCubellis
Screenplay by Brian DeCubellis
Based on the novel by Colin Harrison
Produced by Brian DeCubellis, Adrien Brody, and Steven Klinsky
Director of Photography: David Tumblety
Music: Joel Douek
Editor: Andy Keir
Starring Adrien Brody, Yvonne Strahovski, Jennifer Beals, Campbell Scott, Steven Berkhoff
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language.