“A Patch of Fog” is a thriller with a bit of tonal trickery. From the standpoint of the obsessive fan genre, the viewer can see certain developments coming a mile away. However, the screenplay dashes and darts enough to keep things fresh, thanks to the teamwork of John Cairns and Michael McCartney. It starts with a lighter, almost Odd Couple-like dynamic, but the two lead characters are evenly matched when it comes to wits. When they start to butt heads, it’s anybody’s guess how these characters will respond in turn.
When the film opens, we see a man sitting in his car, obviously contemplative. He looks to be in his mid-50’s, with a head of proportionally grey hair. He smokes a cigarette to try and ease his nerves, and then he slips on a pair of gloves. He exits his car, which is in some kind of parking garage, and starts walking. It’s entirely unclear where he is headed, but there is an air of deviousness lingering.
The man walks into a high end clothing store, and while browsing through the selection, he stuffs a pair of cuff links into his coat pocket. He then selects a couple of shirts, which he goes to the counter and pays for. He walks out of the store, sidestepping the associate posted by the entrance. He takes a quick glance back over his shoulder, and knows he’s in the clear. When he returns to his vehicle in the parking garage, he lights up a cigarette, his hand trembling. Even though his nerves are completely on edge, it is clear he has done this before.
Not only is this particular thief a serial shoplifter, but he also happens to be a rather successful novelist. He is also the host of a television program that reviews works in the entertainment medium. Sandy Duffy(Conleth Hill) has ridden high on the success of his only novel, A Patch of Fog. He’s content to continue coasting and doing his TV show, but his publisher is pressing him to write another book. But his business partner proves to be the least of his worries when he’s finally caught doing his destructive hobby. Robert(Stephen Graham) diligently monitors the security cameras at this particular store(a five-and-dime of sorts), and stops Sandy as he’s leaving.
Sandy tries to pay Robert off to let him go, which offends him at first. But then he decides to hold on to the security footage(keeping it out of sight of his manager) if Sandy will buy him a drink. This leads to a tense, forced friendship as Robert continues to use the footage disc as leverage to continue hanging out with Sandy. Robert is an unusual and lonely man, almost needy.
Stephen Graham has had roles in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and the hit John le Carré adaptation “Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy”, but he might be best remembered as Turkish’s cohort Tommy from Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch.” Here, Graham’s acting takes center stage, and he portrays Robert as an equal mix of strengths and weaknesses. Robert is certainly a lonely and unusual fellow, and at first he comes off as clingy; perhaps a simpleton.
However, he is often the perpetrator as much as he becomes a victim of Sandy’s wrath. He’s also quite smart. Robert tends to surprise in his reaction each time Sandy tries to distance himself from him. The film only hints at his more unstable aspects, and when Sandy makes a startling discovery later on in the film, it’s a shame that this dynamic isn’t explored just a little bit more. Clearly, this is Graham’s show, and it would have been nice to let him explore Robert’s darkness just a little bit more.
The film makes significant mention of Sandy’s difficult relationship with his father, and that challenge is mirrored in his relationship with Robert. In a way, Robert is like his father, forcing Sandy to come to grips with his unresolved feelings from the past. However, trying to stifle his relationship with Robert could have far more dangerous repercussions.
Michael Lennox directed the Oscar-nominated short film “Boogaloo and Graham”, and he finds more success with “A Patch of Fog.” His feature-length debut is not without its hiccups; the most remarkable cinematography is definitely in the opening third of the film, especially a key shot in Robert’s office when the camera peers down like a fly on the ceiling(the perspective is actually utilized twice). And a couple of scenes feel a little bit superfluous; one involves a train and the other involves a joint(at least the latter pushes the story forward). But the strong screenplay pulls no punches, and that makes this Irish indie a winner. It debuted at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, and now it has the opportunity to find a new audience in the at-home streaming market. “A Patch of Fog” may sound like a hazy title, but this thriller’s upside is crystal clear.