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Film Festival Today

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Sundance 2020 Review: “The Night Clerk” Never Lives up to Its Premise

Written by: Hannah Tran | February 20th, 2020

Film poster: “The Night Clerk”

The Night Clerk (Michael Cristofer) 2 out of 4 stars.

When Bart Bromley, dedicated hotel night clerk, suspects there may be violence in one of the hotel rooms, his ensuing reaction causes him to become part of a murder case in which he is the prime suspect. But how is he aware of this violence? He has a voyeuristic streak brought on by his feelings of social inadequacy as a person on the autism spectrum, causing him to place cameras in certain rooms to help him understand the nuances of conversation. This is the plot of Michael Cristofer’s The Night Clerk, and, unfortunately for the film, it is also the most interesting element of it.

While there’s plenty of intrigue to go around within the walls of its hotels, The Night Clerk is never completely able to match its merely adequate storytelling abilities to its impressively eye-grabbing story. This is most noticeable in terms of its handling of the crime-narrative encompassing it, the lead detective character never really selling as anything more than incompetent and the case as a whole lacking a complete sense of urgency. It doesn’t help that the specifics of the story are occasionally only vaguely sensible and that the editing does little to clarify any of it.

Ana de Armas in THE NIGHT CLERK ©Highland Film Group

Nevertheless, the rest of the script boasts a number of moments that manage to be both touching and compelling. The fascinating character of Bart, embodied by one of Tye Sheridan’s career-best performances, moves the story along through many of its weak points. He understands the externally subtle and internally catastrophic anxieties that comprise Bart’s mind and his outward behaviors. Ana de Armas and Helen Hunt, in supporting roles, both bring unique dynamics to the story that demonstrate their own ability while bringing out more interesting sides to Sheridan’s character. But despite the notably adept performances, the script is still never fully able to deliver on its promises. This, combined with an aesthetic look that feels as though it’s ten years too late and a fairly milquetoast ending, is what makes this good idea turn out to be merely an okay movie.

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Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently studying film and English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to her studies, Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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