A Patch of Fog
Blackmail and loneliness are the order of the day in Michael Lennox’ A Patch of Fog when a security guard threatens to expose a respected novelist’s tendency towards petty crime if he doesn’t become his friend.
In the beginning the film plays out like a fairly standard stalker thriller but quickly becomes a really complex character story. The film wastes no time in establishing the situation when the novelist Sandy Duffy (Conleth Hill) is pulled into the security room by Robert (Stephen Graham) who accuses him of shoplifting. Sandy doesn’t realise he’s done it and starts pleading for Robert to let it slide. He offers him money and tries to appeal to his better nature by framing it as one man doing another a favour.
Robert lets it slide and starts showing up everywhere that Sandy goes in a misguided attempt to gain his friendship, In Robert’s head Sandy owes him that for looking the other way and he holds the security footage over his head with veiled threats to expose him if Sandy doesn’t spend time with him.
I was really impressed by how well established the situation was and how it seemed to be so simple on the surface. As the plot progresses things become a lot more complex such as when it is revealed that this wasn’t an isolated incident for Sandy and that he is a psychologically damaged man who likes the thrill of stealing something he could so easily afford.
Conleth Hill is great as Sandy. He seems so likeable and worthy of respect early on but there’s alway the suggesting that something darker runs just beneath the surface. The more his flaws are gradually revealed the easier to see that he isn’t all that he seems. As a TV personality he is used to playing for an audience and that’s exactly what he does in his personal life too. It’s really clever how the film plays with audience assumptions and gradually lets us see the real Sandy Duffy.
Stephen Graham is equally great as Robert. There’s a really unsettling quality to him that comes across wonderfully. I found myself conflicted between feeling sorry for him and being wary of him. Robert is the type of person we’ve all met and can’t quite understand why we feel uneasy around them. Stephen Graham’s performance manages to tap into that in a big way and the result is a character who seems harmless but is also uncomfortable to spend time with. There is more between the surface as with Sandy and that slowly reveals itself as the film progresses.
The complex relationship between the two central characters is where this film really shines. Their interactions are fascinating to watch and the whole thing develops down a suitably dark path that has Sandy’s paranoia and desperation increase organically. There’s an interesting subtext to the relationship that speaks to a really obvious class divide. Sandy is definitely upper class with his wealth and privilege firmly on display where Robert is very much a member of the working class. Their forced friendship feels even stranger since they would normally never interact in a social setting.
Not all of it works flawlessly though. There is a tendency to repeat story beats that have already been well established. It’s a well constructed narrative but there’s a sense of sameness that starts to become apparent at points. The events depicted start to seem really implausible towards the end and undo a lot of the grounded realism that has been previously established. It’s still entertaining but takes things a little too far.
A wonderfully complex character drama with excellent performances from the actors. Both characters are layered and interesting with lots of flaws and an impressive slow reveal of significant flaws as the film goes on. There is a tendency to repeat things that have been well established and the ending takes things a little too far but it doesn’t derail the entertainment value too much.