Meryl Streep. An actress often named among the greatest actresses who ever lived. An actress whom, many claim, has never starred in a bad picture. I debunk that myth and point to this 1982 mystery thriller, Still of the Night, now on Blu-ray through Kino's KL Studio Classics.
It's certainly interesting watching this Hitchcock throwback; and it couldn't have come at a more propitious time in Streep's career - released eight months after she won an Oscar for Sophie's Choice. However, despite the reteaming of Streep with director Robert Benton, helmer of Kramer vs. Kramer, Still of the Night is a flat, lifeless affair with Streep horribly miscast as a waifish femme fatale/victim. She doesn't outright damn the picture, but it's easy to understand why even she's acknowledged this was her worst effort.
Sam Rice (Roy Scheider) is a Manhattan psychiatrist who's recently learned a patient of his has been murdered. He meets the victim's mistress, Brooke Reynolds (Streep), considered the main suspect in the man's murder. As Sam finds himself drawn to closer to Brooke, it's feared that he'll become her next victim.
Right off the bat, despite the title the film's theme song is not The Five Satins "In the Still of the Night." If that were the case, I'd at least be able to give this film some mark of positivity. Benton isn't a bad director, but after the emotional turmoil he created with Kramer vs. Kramer is completely missing here. Part of that is the genre shift, substituting human emotions for heightened fear and suspense, something Benton doesn't pull off.
Far too often the only "thrill" comes from the loud screeching, screaming and other loud noises used to punctuate something important, whether it's a dead body falling out of a car or someone simply opening a door. Even a moment of connection between Sam and Brooke, their first meeting mind you, is rudely interrupted with a loud ding from Sam's intercom; that fact that said ding is two volumes louder leaves you wondering if Benton's just easily terrified.
It's been said Still of the Night honors Alfred Hitchcock, something that would continue throughout the decade, most famously with the work of Brian de Palma. Benton is no de Palma, so it's hard finding the "homage" outside of Streep's cool blonde and the murder plot. For all Hitchcock's questionable ethics with women, Still of the Night is actually worse, with a murder victim who's the apotheosis of "jerk." He makes no bones about sleeping around on his wife, and openly acknowledges treating Brooke poorly. Suffice it to say, based on what the audience and Sam hear, it's a wonder no one killed him sooner.
Streep's Brooke has zero characterization outside of one monologue towards the end - a moment where Streep actually acts poorly. Because the speech is just there to prevent the character from being completely transparent, there's no resonance to it. Not even Streep musters up the courage to connect with the words she's saying. It's a brief, mandatory glimpse into a character, with no emotion or desire for us to connect to her. Streep looks bored and lost for the most part, all of which culminates in her becoming the film's "final girl," running and flailing before a knife-wielding maniac. Streep's characters may suffer, but they never seem weak. Brooke is weak and Streep doesn't appear capable, or willing, to put the effect in.
Roy Scheider suffers from similar characteristic flaws. A stand-in for Benton himself - who said he based the story off parts of his own life...hmm - Sam Rice is a character Scheider played at several points throughout the decade. As the former star of Jaws and All That Jazz aged, he tended to play characters who proved they could still snag a 25-year-old and this is no exception. The film seems eerily afraid of hinting at any type of physical romance between Scheider and Streep, yet emphasizes it through their dialogue and proximity. By the end, when the two are locked in an embrace (in the only true moment of connection between them), their romance is self-explanatory. There's also odd moments where the script implies a burgeoning relationship that we've yet to see. I couldn't find any proof, but the script plays like it was edited heavily during filming, or that scenes were excised.
Best reserved for Meryl Streep completists, I can't say watching Still of the Night was a mistake. It's one of the more unique choices in Streep's expansive filmography and can always be used as a trivia question; "What's the movie Meryl Streep says is her worst?"