Written and directed by Michael Cristofer, a hotel clerk (Tye Sheridan) has a voyeuristic habit of planting hidden cameras in the rooms but runs into some trouble when one of those cameras spies a woman being attacked and he rushes to help, becoming first on the scene for a murder and the prime suspect. Also starring: Ana de Armas, Helen Hunt, John Leguizamo, Johnathon Schaech, Jacque Grey and Joey Miyashima.
Bart Bromley (Sheridan) is a hotel clerk who works the graveyard shift and has Asperger’s syndrome, so he uses cameras hidden around the hotel to learn everyday speech and mannerisms of the guests in order to imitate them, in the hopes of overcoming his social awkwardness. Of course, the only person who knows about these cameras is Bart, so when he just coincidentally happens to turn up in one of the rooms seconds after a guest has been murdered, instead of telling the police he has a tape of the murder and potentially getting himself in trouble, he keeps quiet, pushing them to understandably suspect him of the crime. As the police investigation takes its course, Bart is transferred to another hotel where he meets, and immediately falls for, Andrea (de Armas), a woman with her own set of problems and secrets but one who quickly has a soft spot for Bart.
There are several undeniable problems with the film but first and foremost is that before the story can even really get going, it gives the whole thing away, there’s no need to wonder who murdered this woman because it’s beyond obvious and cuts out any potential mystery or suspense. However, for a film that claims to be about said murder, it has a knack for forgetting about it or pushing it to the back of its mind for half of the film, again losing any chance of suspense. For the most part the film simply follows Bart and explores the difficulties that having Asperger’s brings to his life and how it negatively impacts the interactions that he has with strangers day to day. That in itself is a positive thing, to show how society reacts to his demeanour when he really can’t do anything to change it, being frequently judged. That then lends the story to sympathise and understand why he put in the cameras which is slightly flawed to begin with but walks dead on into the second problem with including actions that clearly show he knows what he was doing is wrong. Those choices then simply remove that sympathy and cause you to question whether in fact he is a good guy or his condition leads you to give him the benefit of the doubt, undeservedly. Granted it’s a grey area and some will interpret it differently than others but there are enough actions present to imply that he’s aware he shouldn’t have put the cameras in and that his choices are influenced by his attractions and not solely to ease his social interaction. All of which massively defeats the entire purpose of its own story.
Despite the problems with his character, Sheridan gives a solid performance, he clearly spent time learning the types of changes that you see in the body language of a person with autism and applied them to his portrayal to give it more accuracy. Those changes do create quite a challenge but he doesn’t seem to have any trouble with it at all. Ana de Armas similarly gives a strong performance but comes across a completely different issue in that her character is two-dimensional, they give her few background details or personality. There is a brief window into her past which gives her a compassionate and generous quality but it’s not enough to make her feel more significant than an object of desire for the men in the story. Hunt and Leguizamo were both great choices to add to the cast, despite the fact that their appearances throughout are more like repetitions of the same scenes, they actually do well and it would have been interesting to explore their lives a bit further as these actors certainly had more to offer.
The direction isn’t anything new or exciting, it’s fairly plain sailing for this type of genre, there’s no moments of interesting shots or unusual techniques, the style plays out very typical of crime dramas. Given that it’s supported by overly simple and obvious writing, there isn’t a lot to grab hold of its viewers and invest in the story. It constantly feels like its labouring over the same points and not getting anywhere, having given away its story at the very beginning, it doesn’t have a lot to add to keep it going for another 80-minutes. The way that they present Bart is filled with issues and in the end feels as though the result is not at all what they intended, accidentally cutting giant holes in their story.
The Night Clerk had a very interesting premise, and the idea of putting together Tye Sheridan and Ana de Armas had fantastic potential but ultimately leads to disappointment well before the end credits start to roll. There’s no real direction to the story, you know where it’s going and when it gets there, it doesn’t even do you the courtesy of providing a satisfying resolution, instead going for something which is likely intended to seem clever but actually is more of a cop-out. Cut right down to its basics, the morals are extremely murky and its story quite simply doesn’t have anything to offer.