Review: ‘The Near Room’

Ano-morals Glaswegian journalist dives into a personal cesspool in "The Near Room," a strikingly lensed but less than 100% involving neo-noirfest that packs a punch in the auditorium but doesn't linger long in the light of day. This dark , raw-boned drama looks like a tough sell theatrically beyond specialized venues , unless broader word of mouth can build on the festival circuit. Pic is currently languishing in the U.K. sans distrib or sales company.

Ano-morals Glaswegian journalist dives into a personal cesspool in “The Near Room,” a strikingly lensed but less than 100% involving neo-noirfest that packs a punch in the auditorium but doesn’t linger long in the light of day. This dark , raw-boned drama looks like a tough sell theatrically beyond specialized venues , unless broader word of mouth can build on the festival circuit. Pic is currently languishing in the U.K. sans distrib or sales company.

This second feature of Glasgow-born actor-director David Hayman (“Silent Scream”) is never less than highly cinematic in look and construction. It’s also far more of a piece than his Helen Mirren telepic “The Hawk,” which played fests a couple of years ago. But though the movie plays well as a pulp thriller, it never reaches as far under the skin of its characters as it seems to want. Result is a noir with ambitions that don’t really come off.

Charlie Colquhoun (Adrian Dunbar) is an investigative reporter on a Scottish rag whose attempt to stitch up a well-known gangster is undone by defense attorney and former school chum Harris Hill (David O’Hara). Bawled out by his hard-nosed editor (Hayman), Charlie takes on a job from his lawyer ex-wife, Elise (Julie Graham), to track down a missing teen, Tommy (Emma Faulkner).

Tommy is the daughter he handed over to his parents 16 years earlier and hasn’t seen since. A former cokehead who’s also brushed with the cops, Charlie turns a straightforward gumshoe job into a personal quest, especially when it becomes clear that Tommy is the key to nailing some of the city’s scuzzier lowlife.

The trail leads through the hooker community to a child-sex blackmailing operation run by bent businessman Clegg (Peter McDougall), for whom underage Tommy turned tricks on video. When Clegg and religious-nutter cop Eddie Harte (Robert Pugh), also after Tommy, end up dead, Charlie finds himself fingered for the murders.

All the elements are here for a cracking contempo noir, and for much of the time Hayman delivers, with superb nighttime lensing by Kevin Rowley. Debut scripter Robert Murphy’s four-letter dialogue is square-jawed without tipping over into parody.

Main problem is getting an emotional hook on the characters, all of whom are either cold or thoroughly disagreeable, including the central protag. Though Dunbar holds the screen here better than in the recent (also noirish) “Innocent Lies,” he’s still a fine character actor rather than a leading man.

Audience involvement isn’t helped by an unbalanced soundtrack in which much of the already hard-to-comprehend thick Scottish dialogue battles against music and effects. In as densely a plotted movie as this, you really need to be able to follow every word.

Other perfs are very good, from a brief, scary appearance by Pugh as the loony cop, through O’Hara’s smooth-talking, asthmatic Harris Hill, to Tom Watson’s evil Hill senior. Newcomer Faulkner is excellent as the bruised but tough Tommy.

Aside from the sound mix, tech credits on the pic are superior, given the paltry $ 1.2 million budget. Andy Harris’ inventive production design and Martin Sharpe’s editing are both on the money.

Title refers to the place that contains one’s most nightmarish fears and imaginings, though that idea, too, isn’t woven into the script with quite the required rigor.

The Near Room

(BRITISH)

Production

A Glasgow Film Fund and British Screen presentation of an Inverclyde Prods. production. Produced by Leonard Crooks. Directed by David Hayman. Screenplay, Robert Murphy.

Crew

Camera (color), Kevin Rowley; editor, Martin Sharpe; music, James Grant, Paul McGeechan; production design, Andy Harris; art direction, Zoe Macleod; costume design, Rhona Russell; sound (Dolby SR Digital), Cameron Crosby; script consultant, Adrian Dunbar; associate producer, Jo Homewood; assistant director, Tommy Gormley; casting, Alice Hayman. Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival, Aug. 20, 1995. (Also in San Sebastian Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Charlie Colquhoun ... Adrian Dunbar Harris Hill ... David O'Hara Dougie Patterson ... David Hayman Elise Grey ... Julie Graham Frazer Hill ... Tom Watson Pat ... James Ellis Eddie Harte ... Robert Pugh Tommy Stirling ... Emma Faulkner Bunny ... Andy Serkis Alastair Clegg ... Peter McDougall
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