Review: ‘Nightingale in a Music Box’

Vet Chicago playwright Hurt McDermott's microbudget first feature goes out on an admirable limb, weaving an intriguing tale of high-tech theft and brainwashing. Result breaks from Amerindie norms in a dialogue-heavy, two-character style. Too modest/talky for theatrical exposure, it's suited for New Director sidebars.

Vet Chicago playwright Hurt McDermott’s microbudget first feature “Nightingale in a Music Box” goes out on an admirable limb, weaving an intriguing tale of high-tech theft and brainwashing. Result breaks from Amerindie norms in a dialogue-heavy, two-character style that never quite convinces as drama, or flies as cinema. Too modest/talky for theatrical exposure, it’s suited for New Director sidebars and, down the road, fringe small-screen sales.

Bewildered Robin (Catherine O’Connor) is led blindfolded by government agents to be interrogated after being found in a security area at the biotech firm where her husband works. But she remembers none of this — not even that she’s a housewife with two small daughters. Amnesia has kicked in as part of the programming forced on her by unknown forces whom chief investigator Burke (Kelley Hazen, in a rat-a-tat Jack Webb-like monotone) is determined to suss out. Triggering Robin’s memory isn’t easy, though, and Burke is unaware fellow agent Sowa (Andrzej Krukowski) works for the bad guys. Terse progress in sterile settings boasts scant action, but offbeat theme holds attention — if only just. Production values are thin but serviceable.

Nightingale in a Music Box

Production

A Rebus Inc. production. Produced by Leigh Jones, Todd Slotten. Executive producer, Philip Haversham. Co-producer, Rob Turfe. Directed, written, edited by Hurt McDermott.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Michael Dunne; music, Robert Fripp, Brian Eno; production designer, Merje Veski. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, Sept. 18, 2003. (In Mill Valley Film Festival.) Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Kelley Hazen, Catherine O'Connor, Andrzej Krukowski, Pamela Webster, Taylor Grove, Jillian Dirks, Trish Niemeck.
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