A drama, a mystery, a thriller: “October Gale” is all that and more. But the movie’s disparate pieces don’t make a successful, complete picture.
New Orleans native Patricia Clarkson stars as a recently widowed woman who retreats to a remote Canadian island. Her late husband’s family has owned a cottage there for 100 years.
Clarkson, an Oscar nominee and Emmy Award winner (“Pieces of April,” “Six Feet Under,” “Good Night, and Good Luck”), plays Helen, a Toronto physician in search of peace and consolation. Helen finds neither on the island.
Clarkson’s solo performance in the cottage, accompanied by flashbacks of Helen and her husband (Callum Keith Rennie), sensitively sketches the character’s loss. The actress, who’s effectively reflective and later protective as this melodrama fitfully proceeds, carries “October Gale,” a small, minimally cast movie hybrid.
Upon Helen’s return to the cabin, her first visit since her husband’s death, she throws herself into the memories-stirring work of packing clothes and objects her husband will never use again. Grief turns to physically expressed anger.
Act one of the 91-minute “October Gale,” is, primarily, about grief. Then, on a dark and stormy island night, Helen hears a disturbance at her dock. See goes outside and sees a small boat stained with blood.
Canadian writer-director Ruba Nadda’s script contains moments that require more suspension of disbelief than usually required of moviegoers. Nadda has something to fall back on, though, because Helen is a doctor.
When a bloodied stranger appears in her cabin, Helen’s healer’s instinct kicks in, taking precedence over the fear she can be expected to feel.
British actor Scott Speedman co-stars as William, a man seriously wounded by a gunshot. When he appears, the film’s tone abruptly moves to thriller-mystery mode.
At first, William, who’s in much pain and will bleed to death if he doesn’t receive medical attention, is physically incapable of explaining why he’s been shot. Later, he deflects Helen’s questions.
“October Gale’s” Toronto-based writer-director tries to clear and smooth the murky plot and jagged edges of her film through additional flashbacks. It’s a hard sell. If the story takes at all, it’s the convincing Clarkson’s doing.
Another British actor, Tim Roth, recently seen as Alabama Gov. George Wallace in “Selma,” co-stars as Tom, a dangerous man from William’s past. Roth, seen only briefly in “October Gale,” curiously plays Tom as casually menacing.
The capricious “October Gale” script poses more questions than it answers. Its top draw is seeing a fine actress at work. Clarkson makes Helen’s trip to an island in the middle of nowhere worthwhile. Not so the balance of “October Gale.”