US / 95 minutes / color / Acme, Artisan Dir & Pr: Gary Winick Scr: Shem Bitterman Story: Out of the Rain (19?? play, possibly unproduced) by Shem Bitterman Cine: Makoto Watanabe Cast: Bridget Fonda, Michael O’Keefe, John E. O’Keefe, John Seitz, Georgine Hall, Al Shannon, Michael Mantell, Kathleen Chalfant, Mary Mara, Kirk Baltz, Chris Norris. In a small town in upper New York State (the movie was actually filmed in Fulton County there), young Jimmy Reade has apparently killed himself with a double-barreled shotgun. His wastrel elder brother Frank (Michael O’Keefe), who left town after a career of hooliganism but who has evidently calmed down a lot while traveling the world, returns to see Jimmy buried and to make some sort of attempt—in the event, extremely brief—to restore relations with his father Nat (Seitz) and mother Tilly (Hall). He starts living in Jimmy’s old trailer, where one night he’s visited as he sleeps by a mysterious young woman who flees as he wakes.
Nat Reade (John Seitz) attempts to communicate with his prodigal son.
Next day he meets Jolene “Jo” (Fonda), girlfriend to Jimmy and niece of the corrupt local sheriff, Bill Neff (John O’Keefe), and puts two and two together:
Frank: Was that you in here last night, or was I dreaming?
Jo: I don’t know. Am I the kind of dream you have?
The screenplay is full of nice little literary flourishes like this. Unfortunately, some of them don’t come off as naturalistic spoken dialogue—presumably an inheritance from Bitterman’s original play, declarative statements and lyrical fancies seeming far more at home on stage than they do on celluloid. Frank (Michael O’Keefe) and Jo (Bridget Fonda), seemingly just a normal young couple.
Sheriff Neff (John O’Keefe) does to Frank (Michael O’Keefe) what corrupt small-town sheriffs tend to do.
Frank makes contact with his old friend Drew Smith (Shannon), who with his wife Trisha (Mara) runs the local bar and, assisted by goons Val (Baltz) and Steve (Norris), the local meth lab. That meth lab is situated in the tannery owned by Frank’s father, the money Drew pays Nat for the privilege being just about all that keeps the tannery afloat. It doesn’t take long for Frank to satisfy himself that Jimmy was murdered, and he suspects his brother must have found out about the meth lab and been shot to keep his mouth shut. The truth, however, is far murkier and more sordid than that . . .
Frank (Michael O’Keefe, right) tries to get the truth out of Drew (Al Shannon).
Ever protective of his niece, Neff (John O’Keefe) knows and loathes what Jo and Frank are up to in that trailer.
To an extent Out of the Rain is merely yet another visit to familiar territory: there’s not a lot here that you won’t have come across in other small-town noirs. This leads to a certain predictability of plotting—anyone who doesn’t guess fairly early on that Jolene and her sheriff uncle have something pretty unhealthy going on between them hasn’t been paying attention—and this isn’t helped by the repetitiveness of the score (by Cengiz Yaltkaya). Added to the difficulties facing the movie is that Michael O’Keefe turns in a performance of—presumably by intention—quite extraordinarily flatness, availing itself of a very limited repertoire of facial expressions, predominantly sullen. When he visits his dad early in the movie we have this exchange:
Nat: Well, well, well. The prodigal son returns.
Frank: Passes through.
Between the gratuitous sass and the adolescent moodiness it’s little wonder that, throughout the movie, Nat seems to be suppressing only with difficulty the urge to slap his surviving son upside the head.
Frank (Michael O’Keefe) at the old carney ground.
For her part, Fonda shows her limitations. She gives to Jolene a very coltish appeal that sometimes shades into a disturbing childishness; clearly the implication is that the incestuous relationship with Neff started early and has permanently hampered her mental development. When Fonda attempts to let more of that mental frailty become evident, however—as when Jolene seduces Frank—the results are unconvincing, not so much in the neurotic mannerisms themselves but in the transition to them, which is way too abrupt.
Neff (John O’Keefe) thought he could shoot it out . . .
The best-portrayed character in Out of the Rain is arguably Neff’s deputy, Warren (neatly played by Mantell), a rather timid, unassuming figure who surprises everybody—including us and seemingly even himself—by suddenly discovering a bedrock of integrity within himself and the courage to stand up to his bullying, psychopathic boss. Unfortunately, it proves not to be quite enough courage to stop the movie’s final tragedy playing out. John O’Keefe too gives a strong performance until the final minutes, when like Fonda he seems incapable of handling an abrupt transition into neurotic fragility. In both cases the root problem is the script’s, of course; but actors have coped with far more difficult transitions than the ones here.
. . . but he was wrong.
Despite the raft of criticisms above, the movie succeeds in grabbing the attention and keeping it. There’s a great noirish fatalism as the plot unfolds, an effect emphasized by Watanabe’s unostentatiously superlative cinematography. He has particular delight in those scenes filmed in a deserted carnival ground somewhere outside town. We might come away from this movie feeling disappointed that it didn’t make more out of its ingredients, but it does succeed in getting under the skin. And, yes, we all know the movie in which we’ve heard the surname Neff before: DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) dir Billy Wilder, with Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson.