“Tye Sheridan Is …. THE NIGHT CLERK!”
That’s not how The Night Clerk was advertised, though perhaps it should have been. This is one of those overheated melodramas that’s so sure that it’s making a bigger statement than it actually is that it becomes somewhat fascinating to watch. Usually, when we say that a film is fascinating to watch, we mean that it’s either fascinatingly good or fascinatingly bad. The Night Clerk is fascinatingly middle-of-the-road. It has opportunities to be good, largely due to the performances of Tye Sheridan and Ana de Armas. And it has opportunities to be bad, largely due to the direction and script of Michael Cristofer. Try as it might, the film never becomes truly good and yet it’s never truly bad, either. It’s just kind of there.
The title character is Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan), a young man who has Asperger’s syndrome and who works as a night desk clerk at a hotel. He’s hidden cameras all over the hotel, so that he can observe the guests in their rooms. He even watches the guests when he returns to the home that he shares with his mother, Ethel (Helen Hunt). That’s undeniably creepy but we’re not supposed to hold that against Bart because he’s only watching the guests so that he can learn how to talk and communicate with other people.
(To be honest, the film is very lucky that Tye Sheridan was available to play Bart. As written, Bart is not a particularly sympathetic character. But Sheridan is such a likable actor and has such an appealing screen presence that you’re willing to overlook a lot of narrative inconsistencies where his character is concerned.)
Anyway, Bart ends up taking an interest in a guest named Karen (Jacque Gray) but, when Karen’s murdered, Bart becomes the number one suspect. Even though Bart knows that Karen was killed by a mysterious man who had a distinctive tattoo, he can’t reveal how he knows that information. When Bart is assigned to another hotel, he meets Andrea Riviera (Ana de Armas). Andrea seems to take an interest in Bart but is she sincere or is she somehow involved with the murderer herself?
Do I really need to answer that question for you?
And again, the film is lucky that Ana de Arams was available to play Andrea because Andrea is another character who wouldn’t be particularly sympathetic if she had been played by a less appealing performer. The film can never seem to make up its mind whether she’s a calculating femme fatale or a naive victim and it’s somewhat amazing that de Amas is able to give a good performance considering how badly Andrea is written.
The Night Clerk is one of those films that holds your interest while you watch it but it tends to fade from the memory as soon as it ends. Sheridan and de Armas are appealing actors but the film’s central mystery isn’t a particularly interesting one. When the mystery is finally solved, I was so underwhelmed that I kept waiting for another twist to suddenly pop up. Surely, I kept saying, it can’t be that simple. But yes, it is. Though the hotels are impressively trashy, the film itself has a rather flat, uninteresting look and director Michael Cristofer never really brings the story together. It’s a mess of a film but it does work as a testament to the talents of Tye Sheridan and Ana de Armas.