Tuesday, March 03, 2015

October Gale: Clarkson and Nadda Together Again

Imagine a Hallmark Hall of Fame production that breaks out into a thriller—eventually. Viewers should be advised: they will have to wait a rather long time. Dr. Helen Matthews has come to her family’s cabin to mourn her recently deceased husband and clear out the clutter. It is decidedly off-season in Northern Ontario’s Georgian Bay. That will be perfect for either cathartic meditation of criminal skullduggery in Ruba Nadda’s October Gale (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

Matthews’ son tries to dissuade her from moping about the cabin during the stormy season, but she is drawn to the place. Perhaps it is the solitude she really needs. Alas, her seclusion will be interrupted when a man with a conspicuous bullet-wound collapses in her cabin. Vague on the details, he is eager to be on his way once she has stitched him up, but that simply is not realistic. Even if he were strong enough, his dinghy could never navigate the mounting storm.

Of course, someone shot the man calling himself William. Turns out, one of them was an old neighbor of Matthews’ who comes calling. Belatedly, Matthews’ realizes the extent of their trouble and starts to prepare for his return. Fortunately, he will be bringing the man responsible for the violence with him. That would be the mysterious Tom, played by the ever-reliable Tim Roth, who delivers a much needed energy boost to the film.

It is nice to see Nadda working again with Patricia Clarkson, the star of her art-house hit, Cairo Time. Their first collaboration is a beautiful ships-passing-in-the-night romance. Nadda’s Syrian-set follow-up Inescapable had its heart in the right place and made some worthy points, but it just did not click as a thriller. Unfortunately, such is also the case with Gale.

Nevertheless, Gale is not a complete dead loss. In general, it is always refreshing to see a character like the intelligent and mature Matthews on screen. Medically trained and handy with firearms, she is the antithesis of a helpless victim, which is cool. The compulsively watchable Clarkson is instantly credible in the role. However, aside from Roth’s late arrival, she does not have much support. Scott Speedman, who must be the primary beneficiary of some sort of Canadian protectionism for thespians is so lifeless and wooden as William, you could almost confuse him with the dead parrot in the Monty Python sketch.

The thrills never really coalesce in Gale, but it has a strong sense of place (as was also true of Cairo). Cinematographer Jeremy Benning capitalizes on the striking scenery of the isles dotting the bay, conveying both the beauty and the ominous power of nature. Thrillers just aren’t Nadda’s thing. Best saved for cable or Netflix streaming, the uneven October Gale opens this Friday (3/6) at the IFC Center.