NIGHT MUSIC, the 2010 feature film from director Blair Hayes, centers around one confrontational evening in a beautiful mansion between former friends Leo, Jon, and Tricia. A tense little thriller, NIGHT MUSIC grew from a one act play, and the limited sets, dialogue driven character development, and the complicated relationships between the characters reflect this fact. But don’t be fooled – while a small movie and a story in microcosm, the lack of car chases and explosions offer a refreshing oasis in the cluttered landscape of cineplex blockbusters.
NIGHT MUSIC opens with Leo, sitting alone in his beautiful home, fiddling with a laptop. We never see specifically what he’s doing because the camera is too busy gliding about the opulently appointed living room and kitchen, pausing lovingly on the objets d’art and family photos. But despite the visual beauty of this home, it’s a bit sterile, communicated by the absolute quiet. We hear night crickets, the clicking of Leo’s keyboard, the ice clinking in his crystal glass – details that convey menace more than peace. If all that quiet makes us uneasy, a sudden crash followed by the appearance of Jon makes us less easier still.
Really, not much happens in NIGHT MUSIC. Set mostly in a single room, contained to an ensemble cast of three, the drama of NIGHT MUSIC plays out in dialogue. This is to be expected in a theatrical piece, but the expert performances of the cast bring a dynamism that stands in for typical film action. While Jon claims to merely be dropping in to say hello to an old friend, the simmering rage and tightly coiled violence Andrew J. Parker brings to his performance gives lie to that proposition immediately. If that’s not enough to signal this is more sinister that a friendly visit, the wary resistance Guy Birtwhistle brings to the role of Leo cinches the deal. For her part, Boti Bliss as Tricia prowls about the edges like a springy feline, waiting to pounce.
What unfolds between the three characters is 45 minutes of reckoning. Viewers will find themselves on moral quicksand, with a constantly shifting sympathy. Who is right? The devoted and successful family man with a history, and perhaps a present, of indiscriminate skirt chasing? Is he reformed? Who is wrong? The repentant drunk who seems to be a powder keg of violence that will explode at any moment? And just who is this woman, constantly excusing and returning in the lingerie of her the absent mistress of the house? The answers to the questions drip out at an excruciating pace that reflects the natural rhythm of life.
While a very human drama plays out between Jon, Leo, and Tricia, two other silent characters inhabit the dream space of NIGHT MUSIC. Leo’s opulent house seems to breathe in the background, serving as both a badge of accomplishment and an indictment of failure. The fifth character is we the viewers, represented by the roving camera of director Blair Hayes. In NIGHT MUSIC the camera never stills, never stops roving, reflecting the viewers simultaneous desire to both look more closely and to look away. Hayes is best known for directing television advertisements, but if that strikes one as a dubious credential, it proves to be an effective training ground to tell this kind of constrained story in this kind of limited space.
Adaptations of stage plays can be dangerous territory for filmmakers. David Mamet often succeeds (by benefit of directing his own stage work for the screen?), but the field is most often littered with static travesties that feel like someone set up the camcorder just in front of the stage. NIGHT MUSIC never falls into this trap. With a crisp script, dynamic performances, deft camera work, and masterfully editorial set design, the movie not only clears the hurdle of stage to screen adaptations, but makes for a riveting 45 minutes of cinema. The only draw back of the movie is the awkward length, longer than a short film and shorter than a feature, and that’s only a drawback because of the limitations for distribution. If you have the opportunity to see NIGHT MUSIC, invest the time.