He’s well turned-out and driving a Mercedes. But you know the minute the black gloves come out that he’s up to no good.
In the movies, guys who wear black gloves are hit-men or burglars, to a one. Besides, he’s putting them on before he goes INTO a store.
He’s got his routine. He looks, distractedly, through the merchant’s wares — jewelry, pens, odd cheap sundries. His cell phone rings, he fumbles for it, and as he pulls it out he slips whatever he’s pilfering into his tailored overcoat pocket. Afterwards, there’s time for a smirk and a cigarette. It’s like sex to Sandy Duffy, skillfully played by Conleth Hill of “Game of Thrones.”
Sandy’s a famous writer whose break-through novel, “A Patch of Fog,” had touches of autobiography about it — a tough childhood, a father suffering from agoraphobia. Twenty-five years after publication, Sandy Duffy is very much enamored with “being Sandy Duffy,” as one person notes. He teaches at university, stars on a Northern Ireland arts and affairs TV program, dates the lovely hostess (Lara Pulver) of that show and is very much the Big Man in the Arts in that small pond.
But he likes to steal. And one night, he gets caught.
“A Patch of Fog” is a superb thriller in the Hitchcock mold, touching on Hitchcock’s big themes — fear of the law, the sexual rush of committing a crime and blackmail. Because that’s what the simple but skilled store security guard Robert (Robert Graham of “Boardwalk Empire”) seems to do when confronted with a famous man he’s caught in the act and caught on tape.
“I’m not blackmailing you. Just making conversation.”
The fiendishly clever twist to this John Cairns/Michael McCarthy script, is that Robert’s motives defy expectations — Sandy’s and ours. What does he want, because it certainly isn’t money?
A painfully awkward relationship develops between the Man of Letters and the “sad little man” who needs a dictionary just to get through Sandy’s famous book. But that’s all right, Sandy. You’ll record it for me to listen to, right? My very own “book on tape?”
First-time feature director Michael Lennox and his actors dangle their scenes, even simple conversations in a pub, on tenterhooks. Sandy frets for the reputation that could be ruined and tries to play the “sad little man.” But Robert holds too many cards, revealing new ones every time Sandy seem to gain the upper hand.
Graham who has done his share of thrillers — “Snatch” to “Public Enemies” — has a menace lurking just beneath Robert’s naivete. The guy is gauche, but insists on sitting in on Sandy’s college lectures, going to art openings with him. His every “request” of Sandy seems needy and frightening at the same time, even the selfie he insists on in Sandy’s posh home.
Hill gives Sandy mercurial moods, veering from fearful to arrogant, timid to threatening. Does he truly have the measure of this name-tag wearing “Shoplifters will be prosecuted” martinet?
And as the relationship plays out, we wonder to what lengths each man will go to in order to obtain what he wants. What do we not know about them that will illuminate what they’re capable of.
Lennox gives the film a moody, nocturnal tone with an uneasy edge. Scenes keep us off balance. He plays up the script’s literary qualities — “metaphor” is explained to Robert even as the film is underlining what the word means. Is Lennox the son of famed Northern Irish Oxford academic and Christian apologist John Carson Lennox? He directed the more famous Lennox in a documentary debate he had with British scientist/atheist Richard Dawkins.
In any event, he and his players have made a tight, smart and nervous little thriller that keeps right on surprising us, almost right to its inevitable, melodramatic end.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, profanity, pot use
Cast: Stephen Graham, Conleth Hill, Lara Pulver, Ian McElhinney
Running time: 1:32