Title: Still of the Night
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Mystery
Director/Screenwriter: Robert Benton
based on the story by David Newman and Robert Benton
Music: John Kander
Cinematography: Néstor Almendros
A less-heralded movie from La Streep’s impeccable track record, which is rather unanticipated because, STILL OF THE NIGHT is the much-anticipated follow-up of writer-director Robert Benton’s Oscar champ KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979), which as we all know, won Streep her first golden statuette. So it is quite intriguing to dredge it up from oblivion and burrow into the unwonted qualitative drop.
Gestated by Benton and his regular collaborator David Newman well before KRAMER VS. KRAMER, this neo-Hitchcock pastiche probably is a carte blanche reward in the wake of his landslide triumph with the former, however, the last thing one might expect from an acclaimed screenwriter like Benton is the cockamamie plot in this shoddy whodunit, which toys with a man’s dreadful thought of smitten with a drop-dead gorgeous type, whom he suspect might want to rub him out, a tantalizing nod to human’s morbid obsession with sex and death.
As this lean psychosexual study plays out, a personable if overtly dithering Roy Scheider moderately ekes out that peculiar ambivalence, he plays Dr. Sam Rice, a Manhattan shrink bewitched by Brooke Reynolds (Streep), the mistress of his recently murdered client George Bynum (Sommer), and every evidence intimates that Brooke is the killer, including a slipshod second murder which doesn’t make much sense in light of the context, or lousy filmmaking so to speak, for sure, relegating a paper-thin secondary character as the knife-wielding culprit in the reveal doesn’t help, whose schlocky comeuppance is as phony as that preposterous “green box” dream analysis.
Hopping on the film’s slim pickings of merits, Benton at least, keeps the film’s noir and nocturnal ambience in check, hoarily utilizes jump-scares and (repeatedly) a grisly dummy to amp up suspense and spookiness in spite of its strangely languid pace, but what captures our attention is none other than Streep’s sole bash as a femme fatale spiffed up with Hitchcockian blonde tresses (of course, Benton is not above to sexualize her in that ludicrous back-massaging episode, which only leaves us wondering the incredible work ethic of her oriental masseur), she is gorgeous but beset with jitters, calculated, defensive and somewhat bluntly standoffish, conferred with a munificent long take for poignant explication of her past (a treatment would otherwise be replaced with action-packed flashback if the actress is not up for the task), and she nails it beautifully, again, which comes off as a maddening case of underutilizing a real trouper’s talent, short-changed by the story itself, so is a hale Jessica Tandy, not a man’s nattering mother stereotype, but a more rational mind that had it been given the chance, might solve this nonsensical mystery way ahead of her libido-driven son.
referential entries: Benton’s KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979, 8.3/10), Brian de Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (1980, 5.4/10).