Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
With: Tye Sheridan, Ana de Armas, Helen Hunt, John Leguizamo, Johnathon Schaech, Jacque Gray
Written by: Michael Cristofer
Directed by: Michael Cristofer
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual references, brief nudity and violent images
Running Time: 90
Date: 02/21/2020

The Night Clerk (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Once Bitten, Twice Spy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This crime drama is surprisingly low-key and quiet, taking advantage of the wee hours of the dark during which much of the story takes place, and the wounded performances are emotionally touching.

In The Night Clerk, Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan) a young man with Asperger's syndrome works the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift at the front desk of a small hotel. Hoping to learn to improve his social interactions, he has placed secret cameras in the rooms to study people. One night he spies a woman being beaten to death by a mysterious man; only his tattoo is visible.

Because of Bart's odd behavior, a police detective (John Leguizamo) begins to suspect him, and his worrying, protective mother (Helen Hunt) tries to shield him. Meanwhile, a new woman, Andrea (Ana de Armas), checks in. Since her brother also had Asperger's, she understands Bart's behavior. They become friends, and Bart begins to nurse romantic feelings for her. But the murderer is still loose...

The septuagenarian writer and director Michael Cristofer, also an actor and an award-winning playwright, hasn't made a film since 2001 (although he did co-write the 2017 boxing biopic Chuck), and his earlier works (Gia, Body Shots, Original Sin) dealt in much seamier material. The Night Clerk is a welcome improvement, relying on the excellent Sheridan to effectively convey the social awkwardness and frustration, but also deep intelligence and breadth of feeling. It goes beyond any potentially gimmicky performance; it gets to the heart of things.

The other key to the movie's success is de Armas, showing great compassion to Bart, even after things turn uneasy between them. Cristofer creates an alluring atmosphere, using the night air and the hotel's small size to create an insulated feel, almost as if this were a dream of a film noir.

Where The Night Clerk doesn't quite live up is in some of its character motivations and in its murder plot; it's serviceable and effective, but it lacks any sharp twists and turns to keep die-hard mystery fans guessing. Fortunately, the characters are interesting enough that they make the movie worth a look.

Movies Unlimtied