Bart (Tye Sheridan) is an unusual boy, living in his mother’s basement, dining alone while she does the same just a floor above. His atypical characteristics don’t stop there, but it’s not until he goes to his job as a night clerk at a hotel that we witness just how different he is and why. Bart, rigging up video surveillance systems in several rooms, places beautiful women in each. His motives aren’t what you think, but he unwittingly witnesses a murder. Unsure of how to process what he’s seen, Bart digs himself a deeper hole as the police become involved.
There are several stories taking place at the same time in “The Night Clerk.” The first is a race against the clock to clear Bart’s name. The second is a love story, but it’s the third story that adds a twist to the first two. Bart is on the spectrum of autism. His voyeuristic tendencies aren’t malicious. In fact, he uses this technique to help him learn and rehearse interactions allowing him to sound more “normal” in situations. It is his strained relationship with his mother (Helen Hunt) that gives us the additional information we need to better understand Bart and the story to come.
Following the murder, another guest checks in, Andrea (Ana de Armas). In an effort to protect her from her predecessor’s fate, Bart shares his deepest secrets. In return, Andrea’s kindness and understanding of Bart is misinterpreted which elicits emotions and reactions that are at best confusing to him. His black and white world has been flooded with color that he is ill-equipped to process.
Writing a story where the main character has Asperger’s Syndrome is no easy task. The dialogue and Sheridan’s performance carry the load of success for “The Night Clerk.” The perfectly placed conversations between Bart and Andrea gives us great insight into what being on the spectrum means. He sees and processes information differently, but his need to love and be loved is exactly like anyone else’s. Sheridan’s portrayal of this seemingly emotionally flat character connects us to him to not only understand him but to also care about him.
“The Night Clerk” also uniquely sets up situations which allow us to see the world through Bart’s eyes. Gaining that specific knowledge base, we are in tune with Bart and when he makes those awkward and sometimes very dangerous wrong decisions we understand why he’s doing it. And as the cops, lead by Detective Espada (John Leguizamo), close in on the prime suspect, the intensity increases as we only want Bart to be safe, but with his communication style and inabilities, it’s a tension-filled final act.
Although “The Night Clerk” is a crime thriller at the core, its branches spread much wider as we walk in another’s shoes, gaining understanding and empathy. Sheridan’s deft portrayal of someone “on the spectrum” takes us into an interior world previously unknown to us and by the end of the film, we have emotionally connected with him. When a film can open our eyes and our hearts to perhaps be more compassionate to others while it entertains us with a uniquely suspenseful story, it’s a film worth seeing.
3 1/2 stars