Review: Neil LaBute’s Erotic Thriller Out of the Blue Doesn’t Reinvent Film Noir, But Still Entertains

Whether I want to or not, I’m always curious what playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty, The Wicker Man remake) is up to, and right now it’s updating the film noir template with his latest work, Out of the Blue. Ray Nicholson plays Connor Bates, a young man working in a small town library because it’s the only place that would hire him after he spent time in prison because of an assault charge. He spends his non-work hours jogging around the coastal town and trying to be on time with his aggressively nasty parole officer (Hank Azaria). Connor’s life is fairly empty, but it seems he’s okay with that because he’s keeping his nose clean.

While out on a beachfront run, he runs into Marilyn Chambers (please), played by Diane Kruger, and he’s immediately smitten despite her being married to a wealthy businessman whom she says abuses and controls her. The closer the two get in the ensuing weeks, the more Marilyn talks about how much she despises her husband, and before long she and Connor are spending time in her husband’s vacation home on a nearby island. The film name-drops The Postman Always Rings Twice a couple times (and also shares a lot of DNA with Body Heat), so it’s not surprising that Connor gets so resentful that his lady love is bruised at the hands of this much older man that he offers to kill the husband so that they can eventually be together.

To further complicate things, Connor’s co-worker Kim (Gia Crovatin) has a big crush on him and is paying particular attention to his behavior and moods, something he was hoping no one would  be doing as the day of the murder quickly approaches. Also, Marilyn’s step-daughter Chase (Chase Sui Wonders) is dating the town’s (much older) playboy, who knows exactly what Connor did to land in jail and isn’t afraid to talk about it to his face. However, as played by Nicholson, Connor is always an affable guy who never loses his cool or gets violent in any way. He’s fairly laid-back because to be any other way means risking getting thrown back into jail, and he would never allow that to happen. Both Connor and Marilyn are just people looking to escape their pasts and make better lives for themselves down the road.

And if you’ve ever seen a film noir then you know better than to trust Marilyn, who is the quintessential femme fatale—tough and fragile, beautiful and vulnerable, and with a look in her eye that makes it clear that she is the one in control. But this is a Neil LaBute work, and things aren’t always what they seem or what they typically are in these kinds of erotic thrillers. Needless to say, carrying out the murder does not go as planned—not even close—but the end result is the same, and it’s left to the couple to stay away from each other and not turn on one another. Easier said than done. There are vengeful cops, jilted lovers, and clues where there shouldn’t be, and before long Connor and the audience feel like they are drowning is a sea of paranoia. 

Despite portions of the story seeming a bit stiff or predictable, I loved watching Nicholson and Kruger takes us through the mechanics of a modern noir tale. Connor might not be the obvious choice for a noir antihero, but Kruger is dead on with her personality and her performance. We’re rooting for them to come out the other side of this together, but that also seems impossible and unlikely. This is a sexy little movie with sharp dialogue and a smart if familiar story, and enough colorful supporting characters to keep things lively. It may not be breaking much new ground, but few noir films do. The deciding factor is usually whether it handles the template better than most; I think Out of the Blue does just that.

The film is now playing theatrically and is available via VOD.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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