DCI Bernie Reid (Gabriel Byrne) cannot sleep due to personal problems. He is cruising London at night when he hears over the radio that a man was brutally murdered in one of high rise apartment buildings. While entering the crime scene as the first he encounters an enigmatic woman, mature but still attractive, looking for a kid’s umbrella. Reid is unable to stop thinking about her. He tracks her down to a speed dating party where Anna (Charlotte Rampling) is, as usual, looking for a new partner.
While they share a drink Bernie reminds her of their first meeting but Anna denies any knowledge of having already met him. Reid knows it’s a lie and it should make him wary but he grows more attached to Anna nevertheless. Soon he will have to decide what he appreciates better: his police career or that almost unknown woman with serious psychological issues.
It was a slow, atmospheric movie, adapted from a novel by Elsa Levin. Be forewarned – you have to be in a special mood in order to enjoy it. Forget about flashy car chases, loud detonations and shootings; everything seems to happen mostly in the heads of the main characters. The narration is hardly linear but if you allow yourself to get hooked by the movie the jumps forward and backward might become actually an asset. Another asset is London – bleak, almost black and white, somber and dangerous especially for lonely people. It fits the atmosphere splendidly.
Anna Welles, played by excellent Charlotte Rampling, is a woman past her prime but with killer legs and a figure many younger women would die for. She works as a sales assistant, lives with an adult daughter and a toddler granddaughter and is still looking for a partner. In order to find one she is attending arranged speed dating events – with mixed results. One night a real disaster happens – she is picked and invited home by the wrong man. Fast forward. A guy finds out that his upstairs neighbour is dead. He calls the police and gets the mighty D.I. as the first cop on site because securing a crime site is better than cruising unfriendly nighttime streets or spending a troubled night in a hotel room. Soon, in a truly Freudian twist, the crime scene becomes for Bernie also a place of infatuation. He talks shortly with Anna and then starts looking for her far more vigorously than he is looking for the murderer. His luck is twisted again if not thoroughly rotten – he finds both.
I admit the movie had several flaws. The crime mystery was non-existent, at least to me, and the poor Inspector never did anything that would be remotely credible for such a man apart from following Anna like a sick puppy. The red herring story arc in the form of a young flat mate of the victim never was given a chance to take off and it was a pity. The ending also seemed like something taken from quite another story – I didn’t like the ‘social drama’ twist too much. Still I imagine Hitchcock would love to direct that movie and Agatha Christie wouldn’t think twice about writing such a novel.
A perfect film for a dark autumn evening. If you like character studies and slow, noir, psychological murder mysteries you should watch this one. Don’t follow the plot slavishly, don’t examine the cops’ behaviour too thoroughly and you’ll be fine.