Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Patch of Fog: Belfast Stalker Noir

Sandy Duffy’s A Patch of Fog is like the Mockingbird or Catcher of Northern Ireland. The Belfast writer might have other scribblings to his name, but that is the only thing people want to talk to him about. Unlike Salinger and Harper Lee, Duffy has capitalized on his literary fame for all its worth. Unfortunately, that makes him attractive to a lonely blackmailer-stalker in Michael Lennox’s A Patch of Fog (trailer here) which releases today on VOD.

Duffy has some plum gigs appearing on a Crossfire-style cultural TV show and teaching creative writing at the university. Therefore, he has a lot to lose shoplifting items he could easily afford. Yet, he is compelled to do so anyway. Usually, it ends with a warm buzz, but this time he gets nicked by Robert, a socially inept, disturbingly efficient security guard. After letting the famous author twist in the wind for a while, Robert agrees to let him off the hook, in exchange for joining him for a drink.

Of course, Robert quickly starts holding the security camera video over Duffy’s head in exchange for more BFF time. Duffy alternately pretends to play along and then lashes out, inevitably making the situation worse. He is especially keen to keep the arrangement secret from the attractive host of his chat show, with whom he is involved in an increasingly serious relationship. Naturally she also stirs feelings of jealousy in the delusional stalker.

Patch features an absolutely first-rate cast better known for television work, bringing credible heft and dimension to this noirish tabloid tale of celebrity and obsession. Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones, Arthur & George) is terrific as Duffy, giving him a Mailer-esque swagger and a dark edge. Sometimes creepy and sometimes uncomfortably pathetic, Stephen Graham (Boardwalk Empire, Taboo) is always unsettling as the stalker. Although her character is loosely sketched out, Lara Pulver (MI-5, Da Vinci’s Demons, Irene Adler in Sherlock) makes Lucy the TV moderator an intelligent and attractive presence. Plus, Ian McElhinney (also of Game of Thrones) adds some gray-bearded flair as Duffy’s publisher.

Patch is not a bad film, but some of its contrivances push the limits of credibility. Oddly, it seems like Robert is just waiting for Duffy to come shoplift in his down-market big-box store, but that does not make any sense. It also seems like a guy with Duffy’s resources and questionable scruples ought to be able to make a problem like Robert go away easier. Still, it wins plenty of style points, especially cinematographer Matthias Pilz, who gives it the sheen of a vintage Michael Mann film. Recommended (without any great urgency) for fans of British/Northern Irish film and television who enjoy seeing accomplished character actors getting a feature spot, A Patch of Fog is now available on VOD platforms, including iTunes.