I Am the Night is a TNT six episode mini-series, created by Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman, Monster), and her screenwriter/producer husband, Sam Sheridan (Warrior, Seal Team). The show is based on the life of Fauna Hodel, played by India Eisley. Fauna grew up during the 1960’s in a black family, believing she was of biracial descent. Later in life she learned, that not only was she entirely white, she was also the granddaughter of Dr. George Hodel, one of the leading suspects in the 1947 unsolved murder case of Elizabeth Short (aka the “Black Dahlia”). Fauna’s autobiography, One Day She’ll Darken: the Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel, deals mostly with her young life struggling to belong in a black community, until she learns that her real mother gave her up for adoption at age 15, and lied about the race of her father. As Fauna goes to greater and greater lengths to learn more about herself, she also learns more about the Hodel family and its patriarch, Dr. George Hodel. In the TNT mini-series, Fauna travels to visit Dr. Hodel in Los Angeles, where he is both a wealthy surgeon and a great patron of Surrealist art, but once Fauna arrives in L.A., things become more and more odd.
I Am the Night, although inspired by Fauna’s autobiography, is a fictionalized account of her story. My favorite character (and perhaps the most compelling character of the mini-series) is reporter Jay Singletary, played by Chris Pine. Singletary, a PTSD suffering Korean War veteran, started his career as a young prodigy amongst the L.A. newspaper circuit. Leland Orser plays Jay’s seemingly Mad Men inspired editor, Peter Sullivan, who meets with his reporters inside dark bars to discuss story pitches. Jay’s career seems to be on the outs in the show’s present day 1965 Los Angeles, where he struggles to assimilate into post-war life. But Sullivan ultimately has a soft spot for Jay, as does Jay’s fellow war buddy and current L.A. detective, Ohls (in an understated but endearing performance by actor Jay Paulson). Jay’s drunken rants and scrapes with the police, all in the name of journalism, are some of the most entertaining and compelling parts of the mini-series. He refuses to take the minor tabloid-esque stories he is given. Instead, Jay chooses to further pursue his failed attempt at investigating the well-protected Dr. George Hodel. Jay’s early career was capsized after Hodel was proven innocent of moral crimes against his daughter (incest) and sued Singletary for libel. In I Am the Night, Jay has never truly recovered, not from the Korean War, or from his failure to tackle George Hodel in the media. Pine is a pleasure to watch as the angry, slightly psychotic and occasionally drug-addled Jay. He is no longer the dashing young lead of Star Trek or even Wonder Woman. In Night, Pine shows some gray hairs; his character is both tragic and strange, but entirely engrossing to watch. I have to say, I was pretty disappointed when I found out Pine’s character was not based on a real person, but rather an amalgamation of various reporters Fauna Hodel had met during her life while trying to learn more about her family.
The real life Fauna Hodel met and befriended Patty Jenkins late in her life. Jenkins was supposedly so captivated by her story that she agreed to become Executive Producer of a mini-series based on Hodel’s autobiography. Jenkins directs the first two of the series’ six episodes, and it shows. I wish she had directed them all. A close second in caliber, are the third and fourth episodes, directed by Victoria Mahoney, who seems to be a regular when it comes to TV suspense. These episodes are weird and stressful and engaging all the same. The show’s final two episodes are directed by Carl Franklin, whose credits include the crime film, Devil in A Blue Dress, episodes of House of Cards, and the upcoming season of Mindhunter. Overall, the mini-series - shot entirely in 35 mm in both Los Angeles and Hawaii - is beautiful. It’s saturated with color and dramatic shadows. Visually, I can’t complain about the series. The show even shoots several scenes at the historic Sowden house where Dr. Hodel and his family once lived.
But despite the extremely interesting story of Fauna Hodel’s life and its unfolding connections with the unsolved Black Dahlia murder case, I Am the Night ultimately falls flat. It starts out strong, but leans heavily on some film noir cliches, feeling reminiscent of L.A. Confidential. If you have recently watched the third season of HBO’s True Detective, you may find yourself doing a double-take. Both Chris Pine and True Detective’s Mahershala Ali, play war-torn veterans, dealing with the demons of their past, as they fight the demons of their present. Jay is often plagued with visions of those he has killed, as is Ali’s Detective Wayne Hays. For my two cents, I prefer True Detective overall as a show, but I still can’t recommend Pine’s performance in Night enough. The show takes some liberties with the plot of Fauna’s autobiography, (particularly in creating the character Jay Singletary) but ultimately, it is still Fauna’s story. By the show’s third act, Jay becomes a supporting character. Fauna is led to challenge her grandfather to make a name and a life for herself, while Jay is left to disappear into the shadows with his remaining demons.
My ultimate takeaway from watching I Am the Night is how crazy and interesting the actual real life story of Fauna Hodel is. Watching the mini-series led me to read more about her life, as well as the case of the Black Dahlia murder itself. Fauna passed away after battling breast cancer in 2017, but after the series aired on TNT, her two daughters, Rasha and Yvette, went on to host the podcast, Root of Evil: the True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia, which uses taped interviews from many members of the Hodel family (including several recorded by Fauna) to give a more complete picture of the Hodel family history. I listened to the first five episodes of the podcast, and so far, it is far more gruesome in detail, but much less fantastic than the TNT mini-series. I definitely recommend it, if only to really give the real-life Fauna and her daughters the respect and closure they deserve. Her family’s true story is captivating. And as for Chris Pine? I think his career has only just begun to pick up steam. I look forward to seeing him portray more charismatic yet flawed individuals as he ages, ones that are less “beautiful” on the outside, but still just as worthy of your patience and understanding, perhaps even more so.
Besides watching movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. IG: @dldimuro