Binge-r #125: I Am the Night + High Flying Bird
I AM THE NIGHT
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: Three episodes streaming, new episode added each Tuesday
“Some stories will eat you alive,” an editor cautions a journalist in this lush, languid event series, and the idea of being slowly consumed – by a city, by your heritage, by your mistakes – rises over this period thriller. Marinated in film noir touchstones, whether it’s Roman Polanski’s Chinatown or Carl Franklin’s Devil in a Blue Dress, I Am the Night is a homage to the shadows that are created by the sunshine of Los Angeles. Set in 1965 – with the odd occult orgy flashback – it’s blunt about the flashpoints of race and corruption, but the underlying menace and individual will for the truth creates an obsessive energy that lifts the slow burn plotting upwards.
The steady pacing means that it takes until the third episode for the protagonists to meet: teenager Fauna Hodel (India Eisley) has been raised in a small town black community, believing she is mixed-race, only to discover she is adopted from a wealthy L.A family, while struggling reporter Jay Singletary (Chris Pine) is a traumatised Korean War veteran and budding addict who was ruined by a libel case. They’re united by George Hodel (Jefferson Mays), a wealthy gynaecologist who is Fauna’s mysterious grandfather and the powerbroker who destroyed Jay after he reported allegations by Fauna’s since missing mother that George was linked to the infamous Black Dahlia murder.
That case inspired James Ellroy’s pounding crime classic of the same name, and creator Sam Sheridan – working from the memoir of the real life Fauna Hodel – positions the six episodes in the pantheon of California corruption, most notably returning us to the golden age of LAPD brutality as the city’s racial divide becomes a powder keg. Some of the supporting roles, including Connie Nielsen as one of George’s former wives, are played with ripe excess, but Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins sets up the first two episodes with beautifully photographed establishing shots using both natural and filtered light. Pine is particularly good as Jay, turning those ice blue leading man eyes into an angry, self-destructive gaze. At one point, chasing a scoop, Jay hides in a mortuary locker and his panic gives way to laughter. He knows how far he’s sunk. I Am the Night has a similar, and moodily engaging, self-awareness.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
High Flying Bird (Netflix, 2019, 90 minutes): Because it’s a basketball film by Steven Soderbergh, there’s barely a hint of basketball in High Flying Bird. The game is ever-present in this oblique sports drama, but more so is the business that corrals and cartels it. The setting is New York and the period is an ongoing lock-out (strike) between the overwhelmingly black NBA players and the overwhelmingly white team owners. The athletes aren’t getting paid, so agents like Ray (Andre Holland) aren’t receiving their commission, leaving him up against the wall while clients such as future star Erick (Melvin Gregg) can’t even get their careers started. The plot is based on Ray’s machinations to get the players and the owners to end their impasses, but the focus in the screenplay by Tarell Alvin McCraney (co-writer of Moonlight) is the cultural implications: do the rarefied players define the sport, or those who pay them? Ruminative conversations process black history and its implications for the professional game, with Holland finding a particular rapport with Zazie Beetz (Atlanta), who plays his clear-eyed assistant Sam not with manic dedication but cool contemplation. It can be tricky to parse, but Soderbergh’s direction – shooting on an iPhone – provides stark framing and crisp cutting.
New on Netflix: Charlize Theron is wasted, Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel wouldn’t shoot scenes together, and Jason Statham bashes henchmen while holding a baby: it’s The Fate of the Furious (2017, 136 minutes); Have You Seen the Listers? (2017, 86 minutes) is an uncomfortably intimate Australian documentary about a successful artist and the family he could ultimately only take with him as inspiration for his work.
New on SBS on Demand: A genre film with regional specificity, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017, 93 minutes) is an Indonesian drama shot through with mordant spirituality and violent defiance as a widow (Marsha Timothy) is confronted by a criminal gang; Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011, 122 minutes) is a striking wuxia martial arts adventure with Jet Li at the centre of intrigue in imperial China.
New on Stan: A crime thriller that now has period insight, Michael Apted’s Gorky Park (1983, 129 minutes) stars William Hurt as a Soviet-era Moscow police officer investigating murder, corruption, and Lee Marvin; best suited to fans, Midnight Oil 1984 (2018, 90 minutes) charts a band hitting their peak with furious live shows while frontman Peter Garrett runs for the Senate in a federal election.
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