Sometimes, the most interesting thing about a film, book, or TV show is that final and seemingly innocuous bit of information which is left open to interpretation. Ambiguity is often the cornerstone one some truly great works. But there's something to be said for a film that has no intention of leaving anything on the table. When the credits role, that's it, no explanation necessary.
'Nightfall' definitely fits into the latter category; it has no intention of having its central mystery remain an ambiguous maze that will perplex and confound viewers for years to come. Failing to completely resolve the conflict at the core of a narrative can be a tricky proposition when it comes to the innate finiteness of a feature film. But resolution, or any lack thereof is not the problem afflicting this not-nearly-as-twisty-as-it-would-have-you-believe murder mystery; it's the manner in which the film chronically attempts to clarify every plot point and every bit of dialogue by following it up with an explanation of what just transpired or was just said.
It's one thing to listen as two detectives hash out theories about the who, how, and why of a case – that's one of the things that makes Sherlock Holmes such a great character – but it's another thing all together to have the detectives validate each and every claim with an unnecessary clarification of the other's dialogue. It becomes so troublesome at times that screenwriter Christine To Chi Long could have just saved herself some time and had her characters simply repeat every line. It's as if the writer is too concerned that her idea isn't getting across and she's constantly asking the audience, "Are you still with me? Do you understand what's going on?"
Normally, writers allow dialogue to flow naturally and to just end, creating the logical assumption that because the characters understood one another then so too did the audience. Not here, though. Here, the assumption is that nothing is inferred; nothing is understood unless a character has specifically noted it through stilted dialogue that suggests the writer or director (in this case Chow Hin Yeung) has any patience for little things like nuance and implication.
'Nightfall' is a fairly rote potboiler. To its credit, however, it is a potboiler that excels in building atmosphere and intrigue. There's a nifty little mystery at the center of the film that will maintain the audience's interest levels even if the characters necessarily don't. Here, Simon Yam stars as Det. George Lam, a widower trying to raise a teenaged daughter by himself, while attempting to solve the vicious murder of a master pianist. Simultaneously, the film follows Wong Yuen-yeung (Nick Cheung); a recently paroled ex-con who seemingly has a vendetta against the pianist and an obsession with the victim's musically gifted, but unhappy daughter, Zoe.
Cheung gives the film's most intense performance that, ironically (considering what gasbags everyone else is), is done without the actor uttering a single word. Wong is introduced during a stunningly shot and well-choreographed cold opening, which sees him battling a group of knife-wielding inmates in the prison's shower. The entire scene is dialogue free, and there's deftness to the action and the storytelling that's both alert and captivating. And yet, somehow, even though the film has this fantastic opening sequence, 'Nightfall' stumbles almost immediately afterward, becoming too wrapped up in dragging the audience along in the story, rather than allowing them to be moved by it. It's as if the screenplay is constantly trying to make up for the its dialogue-free introduction.
And as he's the primary suspect early on, 'Nightfall' essentially makes Wong a co-lead, in direct conflict with Det. Lam. In that way, the narrative takes a cat-and-mouse approach to the individuals who are seemingly on opposite sides of the law. Of course, nothing is as it seems, and as Det. Lam closes in on Wong, he begins to notice that Wong's motives and actions simply don't add up, leading Lam to wonder if he's even chasing the right man.
The story here is nothing new, in fact the plot of 'Nightfall' could easily be one of a hundred 'Law & Order: SVU' episodes. But the story isn't the problem; it's the manner in which the story is told. Aside from the aforementioned opening, the film completely lacks subtlety and because of this, the suspense suffers. The characters exist to serve the plot; they tell us what they are doing and what they are feeling, answering the why's and how's through plain text rather than descriptive or emotional storytelling.
What could have been an effective and twisty murder mystery becomes an overwrought melodrama, complete with histrionics and over-acting of the most ridiculous kind. 'CSI'-like flashbacks detailing the crime take up an inordinate amount of time and completely derail the film's pacing. And while this leaves the viewer absolutely certain of what he or she has seen, there's little chance that anyone will have been moved by it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Nightfall' is another quality disc from the folks at Well Go Entertainment USA. This is a single disc in the standard Blu-ray keepcase, though it doesn't contain the usual paper insert advertising other Well Go releases. There are several previews on the disc prior to the top menu that can be fast forwarded or skipped all together.
'Nightfall' has some moments of stylish filmmaking that manage to shine thanks to the 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer. The opening scene in particular looks fantastic; warm hues are accentuated nicely, giving the short prison sequence a hot, muggy feel while still maintaining a clean visual representation of the environment.And that is a fairly good summary of the best aspects; it's clean and offers a great sense of place, but doesn't really go much beyond that description. Detail, color and contrast are all fine and sometimes very nice – especially in well-lit sequences like the gondola bit – but they seem to come up a little short in low light segments, of which there are plenty. Mostly the low light issue stems not from a problem with the contrast – this is mostly great throughout – but rather because of the prevalence of banding along the night sky, or in the gradation of shadows on walls or in rooms. This is especially problematic during the film's climax, which takes place at night and outside.
In the end, the transfer has quite a bit to offer when everything falls into place. Colors are great and so is the fine detail, but it's difficult to overcome those moments when the banding is so prevalent that it's a complete distraction.
As was mentioned in the review, 'Nightfall' is a very talky movie, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 handles it quite well. Every character is easily understood and the dialogue manages to come through cleanly, even when layered with score or sound effects.
In that regard, the mix also handles the film's other elements quite well. There's a prodigious amount of atmospheric elements that are presented in almost every scene, from the sound of a busy police station to the elegance of a young woman playing the piano. There are even some exciting action sequences that, again, highlight the film's score as well as effects like gunshots, breaking glass and other bits of mild destruction. Most of the time, everything feels pushed through the front channel speakers, while the dialogue is funneled very cleanly through the center. Meanwhile, atmospheric elements tend to be evenly distributed throughout, utilizing the surround speakers to great effect.
This is a solid audio mix which frequently makes the most of every element that it has at hand. It's not a perfect mix, but it comes quite close.
'Nightfall' has all the elements to be a quality modern detective story; it is stylish at times and early on, wants to lead the viewer into a world wherein he or she is unsure where the truth lies. For whatever reason, though, it seems like the screenwriter and director thought the narrative might be too perplexing, too confounding for the audience to follow, and the result, sadly, is a compelling story watered down with stilted dialogue and unnecessary melodramatic sequences. The disc's picture comes through more often than not, but is held back by some banding issues in certain places, while sound stops just short of being excellent. This isn't a great picture, but it could easily entertain fans of crime dramas and television procedurals. It's worth a look.