Movies

Manhattan Without Car Alarms

Tim Robbins plays a sound-pollution vigilante in Noise.

Noise. Click image to expand.
Tim Robbins in Noise

Tim Robbins generally appears in one of two kinds of movies: well-meaning but bloated tearjerkers about serious issues (The Shawshank Redemption, Catch a Fire, Mystic River) and odd, scrappy little indie comedies about (and for) people too brainy for their own good (High Fidelity, Human Nature). Noise (ThinkFilm) is a minor but endearing entry in the latter category. The story of a New York yuppie who embarks on a one-man vigilante campaign against sound pollution, Noise is never quite as smart as it tries to be. But as summer and its mouth-breathing blockbusters loom large on the horizon, there’s something touching about a movie that even tries.

At the start of the film, David Owen, a middle-aged lawyer with a hot cellist wife (Bridget Moynahan) and a young daughter (Gabrielle Brennan), has already gained a Gotham-wide reputation as “the Rectifier,” a mysterious hoodie-wearing figure who prowls the city with a tool belt, destroying all sources of needless racket (car alarms, backup beepers, malfunctioning doorbells) and leaving behind a telltale sticker as his calling card. In a series of oddly staggered flashbacks, we see the bookish David transform into the righteous Rectifier. Driven half-insane (and nearly impotent) by the constant bleating of car alarms outside his window, he breaks a car window one night and discovers his life’s calling: to smash the shit out of anything that goes “beep” in the night.

Getting caught and arrested twice does nothing to stem David’s passion for his newfound hobby. Soon he’s risking his job and his marriage to pursue that most quixotic of dreams: a quiet Manhattan. He’s eventually joined by Ekatrina Filippovna (Margarita Levieva), a luscious Russian sprite who shares his predilection for kinky sex, philosophy, and vandalism, and together they collect signatures for a ballot initiative to outlaw car alarms. But they meet their match in the vulgar, Giuliani-esque mayor, Reinhardt Schneer (William Hurt, wearing a red comb-over and enjoying himself so hugely he seems to be licking invisible cream from his whiskers).

Like writer/director Henry Bean’s first film, The Believer, which starred Ryan Gosling as a self-hating Jew turned Nazi skinhead, Noise bites off much more than it can chew—an indigestible wad of broad social satire and sincere political commentary, with one too many Hegel references for even this former grad student to endure. But it masticates that wad with admirable vigor. Robbins has a knack for this kind of character, idealistic but not overly endearing—much as we may identify with his pro-silence crusade, this guy is borderline certifiable. The secondary characters, especially Moynahan’s watchful, dry-witted Helen, are prone to unexpected moments of insight (even a floozy David and Ekatrina pick up for a threesome has some deep thoughts to offer about how “a human being is nothing but a question”). More often than not, these insights seem to issue more from Henry Bean’s brain than from the character speaking his lines, but it’s an interesting enough brain that you’re willing to cut him some slack. Noise has a way of making the audience sit up and listen, without any bells and whistles.