“Stars at Noon” is a movie about wanting to get out — out of the country, as in the case of the young foreigners who find themselves unwanted and alone. They find each other, and then sexual tensions run as high as the humidity in that Central American country. Political actions and pandemic restrictions close them in tighter and tighter. They find that all means of support are taken away, and they must rely on each other. But will the walls close in before they find an escape?
Trish (played by Margaret Qualley) is a journalist trapped in Nicaragua. She has only a few friends who have given her a way to remain actively writing. She has only her smarts, and her body, with which to make deals with low-level politicians and policemen. These deals are stopped after the national government finds out what she had done. Trish had written and published a few articles that put a spotlight on the kidnapping, torture and murder they had endorsed. Trish now has her ‘press credentials’ revoked, and her passport taken away.
She connects with her only outside contact, the person who runs the stylish travel magazine that Trish as written for in the past. Her ‘American Boss’ (ever-so-briefly played by John C. Reilly) will have nothing to do with Trish. She has been a dead weight as far as he is concerned. She knows that going to the high-class hotel in town will cheer her up. Well, that and a lot of rum…
Trish meets up with another person there who is a foreigner. His name is Daniel (played by Joe Alwyn), who is an Englishman in a sharp white suit. He explains that he works for a large Oil Firm conglomerate. He is checking the country to see if there would be ways to make a deal with government. There will be an election coming up soon. The current Pandemic has caused most all the citizens to abandon the streets to the Military Police. There are strict curfews and codes, and the radical government wants to keeps things quiet.
In a country like Nicaragua, under a repressive regime – Daniel and Trish stand out like a pair of rotten plantains in a bushel. Daniel meets with a man, and he says it is a fellow Oil businessman from Costa Rica. Trish knows that this guy is a Costa Rica Secret Police Agent (played by Danny Ramirez). Daniel might dress sharp, but he seems a little dull in knowing with whom he is dealing. Plus, is Daniel only a businessman? Than why does he seem to have endless funds, and carry a gun, and swap out chips in his smart phone?
Trish is shut down by all of contacts, and Mr. Costa Rica confronts her. She will be left alone and not harassed, if she helps to turn over Daniel. Now she knows that she and Daniel must get away. He finds that his stay at the high-class hotel has been cut short. His business deals have fallen through, or maybe his cover has been blown. Daniel and Trish decide to buy a truck, and drive to the border of Costa Rica.
The truck they are going to take winds up destroyed. Trish has been kicked out of her meager week-to-week hotel hovel. They head for the boarder in a stolen van. Near the boarder of Costa Rica, they stop for the night. How can they cross, when Daniel’s papers were last seen in the high-class hotel? And also Trish has had her passport taken away. What can they do?
Trish happens to meet an American ‘business consultant’ when she wakes up before Daniel. He might actually be a CIA Man (played by Benny Safdie). This guy is working with Mr. Costa Rica to get information about Daniel. Mr. CIA claims that Daniel is actually a British agent, working to stir up unrest prior to the elections in Nicaragua. She does not know who, or what, to believe. The only way that Trish and Daniel can get out is to pay coyotes for an illegal river raft crossing.
But if they get into Costa Rica, will the troubles that they face be any fewer? Trish still has no papers and no passport. Daniel is out of luck with his ‘Big Oil’ business contacts. Instead he is being hunted down by Mr. Costa Rica and Mr. CIA. Either way, there will not be a pleasant outcome for both of them.
“Stars at Noon” has the potential to be an interesting, sharp and focused movie about shady dealings in Central American countries. But because it is overly long and not focused on any one thing, it comes across as a bleak slog of a film. There is a sleek 90 minute thriller in there, jam-packed into a two-hour plus run time. The dreary world of the characters becomes all to real for the audience.
Margaret Qualley plays Trish as best as she can, and is able to inject a little character zing into the rum-soaked journalist. Joe Alwyn, as Daniel, was dealt an awful hand. His movie character is so thin and wispy, that he is as noticeable as a slice of white bread in a snow storm. The writing is designed to make you find out more and more – but allow you understand less and less.
“Stars at Noon” fulfills the promise in its title. When actual stars are in the sky during the day, they are washed out and not visible. The same goes for any plot or characters here…
Stars at Noon
Directed by: Claire Denis
Screenplay by: Claire Denis, Léa Mysius, Andrew Litvack
Based on: “The Stars at Noon” by Denis Johnson
Starring: Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, Benny Safdie, Danny Ramirez, John C. Reilly
Cinematography: Éric Gautier
Edited by: Guy Lecorne
Music by: Tindersticks
Distributed by: A24
Release date: October 14, 2022
Length: 137 minutes
MPPA rating: R for sexual content, nudity, language and some violence.