"Manhattan Night" is a modestly budgeted urban neo-noir and a throwback to the days when moody detective stories were B-picture staples. It's not a great movie but a welcome one, if only for how it attempts to revive a whole genre.
Writer-director Brian DeCubellis adapts a Colin Harrison novel about an acclaimed New York crime reporter named Porter Wren (played by Adrien Brody) who gets sucked into the drama surrounding a sexy young widow (Yvonne Strahovski), in part because he smells a story and in part because he's bored.
"Manhattan Night" is at its best when it's fleshing out the details of Porter's life. Married to a surgeon (Jennifer Beals) and living in a big, warm, happy house literally hidden away downtown, Porter would ordinarily have little reason to go adventuring — except that his ego has been getting crushed by waning newspaper circulation.
The mystery he stumbles into involves the femme fatale's late husband, Simon (an eccentric filmmaker played by Campbell Scott), and a blackmail scheme. DeCubellis tries something unusual by letting Simon's home videos serve as both flashbacks and Porter's investigatory "shoe leather."
The case is ultimately a little too confusing, and the supporting cast tries too hard to be archetypal. Still, in an era when cheap horror and action-adventure dominate the lower reaches of the VOD menus, it's refreshing to see something this classy. It would be great if it inspired imitators and reclaimed noir for the indie crowd.
MPAA rating: R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills