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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 02.21.20] thriller crime

Since his debut in Tree of Life, Tye Sheridan has amassed an interesting collection of film credits that includes the likes of Terrence Malick, Jeff Nicols, David Gordon Green, and Steven Spielberg. Not bad for an actor barely into his 20s.

For The Night Clerk, Sheridan takes on a significantly more complex character. Bart Bromley is a socially challenged individual but one that is doing his best to fit in. During the day, he studies situations, exchanges and other people. At night, he uses what he's learned at his job at a local hotel. In public, he makes every attempt to seem "normal" but anyone that knows Bart and interacts with him for any extended period of time understands that normalcy does not come naturally to Bart.

We see early on that much of Bart's observations are made via video he has secretly recorded at the hotel - an instant red flag - but things get complicated for the young man when he becomes infatuated with one of the guests, the now very familiar Ana de Armas, a woman with a complicated life that includes a romantic involvement with an unsavoury character.

Writer/director/actor Michael Cristofer, know primarily for writing such classics as The Witches of Eastwick and Bonfire of the Vanities, returns to the director's chair for the first time in nearly 20 years here directing from his own script.

While The Night Clerk is aptly made and features a duo of excellent lead performances from Sheridan and de Armas, as well as supporting performances from Helen Hunt who plays Bart's mother and John Leguizamo who plays a police detective, the issues with the film stem from the script.

There's a lot to like here. Cristofer leans into expectation, setting up Bart as an easy scapegoat before making the young man the hero. The relationship that builds between Sheridan and de Arma feels authentic to the characters. Unfortunately the drama and mystery at the centre of the film is only mildly interesting. Of course the women are involved with troubled men. Of course Bart is first seen as the perpetrator before turning out to be the hero. Of course the mother is hysterical that her son is mixed up in some trouble. Of course the cop automatically suspects the shy young man who doesn't easily fit in... the movie plays into many tropes and though there's nothing wrong with that, it all feels very familiar.

That said, The Night Clerk does make excellent use of its cast and the final act provides a satisfying and mildly exciting conclusion to the drama. While some may have qualms about Sheridan's performance as a socially awkward individual, I found his performance to be respectful and controlled, while de Armas is completely charming as she continues her takeover of the movies.

In the end, The Night Clerk is a fun, low-key who-done-it with some interesting plotting that will likely be remembered for its great performances.

The Night Clerk opens theatrically and is available on VOD February 21.

Recommended Release: The Night Clerk

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