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We've been adding to this thread for a year and two days. That's an anniversary that deserves a mention, I thought.

It most certainly deserves mention.

I believe we are nearing 50 films submitted for consideration.

I for one have learned plenty from all those films and I thank all who participated and engaged.

 

Marianne, if I may, this was your idea and so kudos to you. Here's to another year of neo-noir.

 

Thank you all.

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Dancing on the Edge (2013, dir. Stephen Poliakoff)

 

I give the television series Dancing on the Edge 12 out of 16 from our list of noir characteristics.

 

Dancing on the Edge is a story about a jazz band trying to make its fortune in 1930s London. The soundtrack is original work for the show, and it is wonderful. The band members—all black musicians—meet all sorts of people during their stay in London. Some want to help the band; others are dead set against the band and individual members.

 

I watched Dancing on the Edge on DVD. Everything I have read online indicates that the series originally aired only five episodes. The DVD version that I watched included a sixth episode, and the version shown on PBS in the United States broke down these six episodes into eight episodes shown on eight different nights. The sixth episode on the DVD (the eighth episode on PBS) could be interpreted as introducing a new story line, one that is connected to Louis Lester and the Freemasons but could have continued without Louis. (The Freemasons play a pivotal role in the plot of the first five episodes.)

 

Betrayal, angst, murder, and flashbacks certainly contribute to making Dancing on the Edge a neo-noir series. The jazz music, another hallmark of later film noir, makes for some fantastic listening, and it’s integral to the plot, too. But I would take out Episode 6. I think it was meant originally to introduce another plot for a subsequent season, which apparently never made it to television, and doesn’t seem to add much to the story, except maybe for Stanley’s and Louis’s memories of living in wartime (during World War I).

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Although this is not a major feature of the television series, I would count it anyway. The opening in Episode 1 uses muted color to enhance the (at the time) unknown character’s desperation.

2. Flashbacks Flashbacks are used very effectively in Dancing on the Edge. Episodes 2 to 5 use flashbacks to previous episodes as a way to remind viewers about important plot developments. I found these to be very smooth transitions: The reminders orient viewers without an intrusive voice-over announcing something like, “From the previous episode.” The reminders are most often Louis Lester’s memories of recent events, and seeing them from his perspective makes the story much more seamless.

3. Unusual narration The use of flashbacks in the context of the story, which is broken into episodes for television broadcasting, is very effective in moving the story forward. See number 2.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) I’m not sure the main crime of murder was given much forethought, but the cover-up certainly took planning and careful orchestration. The maneuverings and machinations lead to suspicion and more betrayal among the main characters.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate Not a huge factor, but I would still count it. The chance meetings leading initially to the Louis Lester Band’s success and then to its dissolution certainly seem to be orchestrated by fate and chance.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Louis Lester and his band members face betrayal, angst, loneliness, bureaucratic red tape—in other words, more hallmarks of noir. In the context of Dancing on the Edge, however, these noir plot developments occur in an atmosphere of racial prejudice. As long as the band and its members are famous and well received by royalty and the upper class, they are welcome. The minute suspicions creep in, people turn against them.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Not a huge factor, although various band members and Louis Lester, in particular feel threatened by forces over which they have no control.

9. Urban and nighttime settings Jazz gigs, nighttime escapes, London as the central setting.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) World War I is in the background of the story, unless you watch Episode 6, where it is given more direct discussion and attention. In Episode 6, Stanley and Louis talk about their memories of living in wartime (during World War I, not World War II).

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Louis Lester comes under suspicion of murder, and some of his friends and acquaintances turn on him quickly after the police focus their investigation on him. He is increasingly isolated, and he has to figure out who can be trusted and how to navigate an increasingly hostile situation.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal See number 7 and number 11 above. Betrayal is one of the core themes of the series. In some cases, characters assume that others are betraying them when they are not, or they would reconsider the acts of betrayal as not personal if they knew the circumstances surrounding the acts of betrayal.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Some of the main characters act in surprising ways, and it’s almost impossible to tell who will do what, who will help or hurt, before the resolution in Episode 5.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

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Dancing on the Edge (2013, dir. Stephen Poliakoff)

 

I give the television series Dancing on the Edge 12 out of 16 from our list of noir characteristics.

 

Dancing on the Edge is a story about a jazz band trying to make its fortune in 1930s London. The soundtrack is original work for the show, and it is wonderful. The band members—all black musicians—meet all sorts of people during their stay in London. Some want to help the band; others are dead set against the band and individual members.

 

I watched Dancing on the Edge on DVD. Everything I have read online indicates that the series originally aired only five episodes. The DVD version that I watched included a sixth episode, and the version shown on PBS in the United States broke down these six episodes into eight episodes shown on eight different nights. The sixth episode on the DVD (the eighth episode on PBS) could be interpreted as introducing a new story line, one that is connected to Louis Lester and the Freemasons but could have continued without Louis. (The Freemasons play a pivotal role in the plot of the first five episodes.)

 

Betrayal, angst, murder, and flashbacks certainly contribute to making Dancing on the Edge a neo-noir series. The jazz music, another hallmark of later film noir, makes for some fantastic listening, and it’s integral to the plot, too. But I would take out Episode 6. I think it was meant originally to introduce another plot for a subsequent season, which apparently never made it to television, and doesn’t seem to add much to the story, except maybe for Stanley’s and Louis’s memories of living in wartime (during World War I).

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Although this is not a major feature of the television series, I would count it anyway. The opening in Episode 1 uses muted color to enhance the (at the time) unknown character’s desperation.

2. Flashbacks Flashbacks are used very effectively in Dancing on the Edge. Episodes 2 to 5 use flashbacks to previous episodes as a way to remind viewers about important plot developments. I found these to be very smooth transitions: The reminders orient viewers without an intrusive voice-over announcing something like, “From the previous episode.” The reminders are most often Louis Lester’s memories of recent events, and seeing them from his perspective makes the story much more seamless.

3. Unusual narration The use of flashbacks in the context of the story, which is broken into episodes for television broadcasting, is very effective in moving the story forward. See number 2.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) I’m not sure the main crime of murder was given much forethought, but the cover-up certainly took planning and careful orchestration. The maneuverings and machinations lead to suspicion and more betrayal among the main characters.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate Not a huge factor, but I would still count it. The chance meetings leading initially to the Louis Lester Band’s success and then to its dissolution certainly seem to be orchestrated by fate and chance.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Louis Lester and his band members face betrayal, angst, loneliness, bureaucratic red tape—in other words, more hallmarks of noir. In the context of Dancing on the Edge, however, these noir plot developments occur in an atmosphere of racial prejudice. As long as the band and its members are famous and well received by royalty and the upper class, they are welcome. The minute suspicions creep in, people turn against them.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Not a huge factor, although various band members and Louis Lester, in particular feel threatened by forces over which they have no control.

9. Urban and nighttime settings Jazz gigs, nighttime escapes, London as the central setting.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) World War I is in the background of the story, unless you watch Episode 6, where it is given more direct discussion and attention. In Episode 6, Stanley and Louis talk about their memories of living in wartime (during World War I, not World War II).

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Louis Lester comes under suspicion of murder, and some of his friends and acquaintances turn on him quickly after the police focus their investigation on him. He is increasingly isolated, and he has to figure out who can be trusted and how to navigate an increasingly hostile situation.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal See number 7 and number 11 above. Betrayal is one of the core themes of the series. In some cases, characters assume that others are betraying them when they are not, or they would reconsider the acts of betrayal as not personal if they knew the circumstances surrounding the acts of betrayal.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Some of the main characters act in surprising ways, and it’s almost impossible to tell who will do what, who will help or hurt, before the resolution in Episode 5.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

You did an amazing job here, considering the 6 hours of viewing. I thought your description in #4 hit the mark. Brilliant even.

 

There is so much to like about this series and you have touched on them all.

The highlights for me, as I remember: the sets (art direction), the cinematography and the music.

I want to see Dancing on the Edge again because the acting and story were just as good.

 

Hey! Noir is getting around: proto-noir, classic noir, neo-noir and now TV-Series noir.

Who'd have thunk it!

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El aura (The Aura) (2005, dir. Fabián Bielinsky)

 

Many of the descriptions that I have read online of El aura don’t do the film justice. The plot is much more complicated than a one-paragraph description can convey. The film takes its time building scenes (and building tension) and examining the character of Esteban, and it still allows viewers to make up their own minds about him. El aura is over two hours long, but it is well worth seeing this portrait of a man in a particular and peculiar situation.

 

I give El aura 10½ out of 16 on our list of neo-noir characteristics, but it’s really a neo-noir through and through. Other features give El aura the neo-noir label:

• Esteban’s seeming lack of motivation

• Dietrich’s dog as a character throughout (and maybe even a killer)

• The many times that the relentless music is the only sound that can be heard during the film

• The significance of the title and Esteban’s epilepsy

We don’t have categories for these features, but they play a big part in making El aura a neo-noir.

 

***Spoilers***

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Muted, drab color throughout. Mostly green-tinted, with black, gray, white, brown, and more green. Even though most of the film is shot outdoors, we rarely see the sun.

2. Flashbacks Half. Instead, we see Esteban’s epileptic attacks, which greatly influence his portrayal as a character, of course, and have a dramatic effect on the plot.

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Casino heist is planned, multiple murders, accidental homicide

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate Esteban suffers from epilepsy. He accidentally shoots another man while out hunting. This accident leads to a string of events that he could have avoided but seems almost unable to stop.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) This film is the opposite of angst for Esteban because he doesn’t seem to have any emotions at all, so I am going to count this. He shows compassion toward Diana, but that’s about it. It’s the viewer who hears the music on the soundtrack and feels the suspense and unease and the building tension.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Constant threat of violence from others involved in the casino heist. A lot of the film has no dialogue, but the music is on an almost constant single note that increases suspense and unease.

9. Urban and nighttime settings The woods and the countryside count as characters, as far as I’m concerned. Dietrich’s dog goes hunting at night; it seems to be the only creature comfortable in the milieu.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Esteban’s wife leaves him at the start of the film. He seems not to care about anything after that. He is completely alone in his dilemma; he’s the one guarding the central secret of the plot. The viewer knows it and is thus drawn in inextricably.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) I’m going to count this because Esteban suffers from epilepsy, and he has at least three seizures during the film that affect the action. In a very poignant scene, he describes what it’s like to have an epileptic seizure to Diana Dietrich.

13. Greed Everyone, except Esteban, is in it for the money, although the others are not always in it because of pure greed.

14. Betrayal Half. One could make the case that Dietrich, Diana, and Julio betray each other, but it’s not because of the heist that Dietrich is planning.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A Almost all the characters, except Diana Dietrich and the emotionless Esteban, are ugly to one another and treat each other badly. And this is before the bodies start dropping.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Half. Esteban is in over his head. Fate is the only reason things work out the way that they do.

 

 

I recently saw El Aura and agree with your assessment in the write-up. The movie is wonderful at times and gripping at other times.

You mentioned Dietrich's dog as a character throughout, I agree. The director kept focusing on him except I could not figure out why.

 

A memorable film. Well written and well paced.

TWO YESSES.

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Out of Time (2003, dir. Carl Franklin)

 

*****Some Spoilers*****

 

Out of Time is great fun, and Denzel Washington is a good reason to see this film. The DVD commentary by the director Carl Franklin is also recommended. Franklin maintains that the tone of the film is light-hearted, but there is no denying the slow escalation of tension for Denzel’s character, Police Chief Matt Whitlock. He’s having an affair with a woman dying of cancer and she needs money for an alternative treatment to save her life. He wants badly to help her . . . and who is going to miss that drug money in the police evidence locker?

 

The film builds the tension until you swear you can feel the Florida heat just like the characters can. I give Out of Time 11½ out of 16 from our list of neo-noir characteristics.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color The colors and the lighting emphasize the locale (southern Florida) and the heat. And the heat emphasizes all sorts of tension in the characters.

2. Flashbacks N/A

3. Unusual narration Maybe one-half point because the film starts out as a romance and then goes off in directions that are unexpected.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Theft of money from police evidence locker, arson, murder, body snatching.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Ann Merai Harrison is the femme fatale in this neo-noir.

6. The instrument of fate Chief Matt Whitlock makes one bad decision, then one more bad decision, and then he’s trapped in a closing-noose situation of his own making.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Plenty of guilt, fear, confusion. The mounting tension after the light-hearted opening is a gradual and pleasant switch if you’re a neo-noir fan.

8. Violence or the threat of violence I notice that all the main characters have guns and aren’t afraid to use them, so yes, there’s a lot of violence threatening to explode.

9. Urban and nighttime settings Not so much urban but plenty of nighttime settings that are hot and steamy.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Maybe one-half point because Chief Whitlock is alone in his guilt and in the suspicions of others. Only one person comes forward to help him.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

13. Greed Greed sets everything in motion, but the greed of one particular character is not revealed until the end of the film.

14. Betrayal Plenty of betrayal to go around, both marital betrayal and betrayal of one’s professional ethics.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) A couple of the characters are out for themselves, but they are not completely evil. Chief Whitlock is the most complicated character, but he is still likeable. And he’s played by Denzel Washington, who always comes across as likeable.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Expertise does triumph in the end, but it also comes in the person of a character who hasn’t betrayed anyone or the ethics of his or her chosen profession, so maybe one-half point for this characteristic.

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No Way Out (1987)

dir. Roger Donaldson

 

No Way Out is a top-notch, neo-noir, political thriller set in Washington D.C.

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) is introduced to the Secretary of Defense, David Brice (Gene Hackman) at an inaugural gala. A short while later, after much eye flirting, Farrell approaches Susan Atwell (Sean Young) and they immediately become lovers. In time, David recruits Tom to act as liaison between the Defense Department and the intelligence community. Things begin to get complicated for this trio when Tom Farrell learns that Susan has something going on with David Brice.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes.

Cinematographer John Alcott who worked on A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), and The Shining (1980) does a wonderful job of creating rich contrasts and delivering a chiaroscuro that helps enrich the colors and enhance the senses. The film maintains a visual beauty throughout.

 

2. Flashbacks Yes.

The story begins with Tom Farrell being interrogated by two men. The scene then dissolves and we next see him six months earlier. The story is told in one long flashback.

 

3. Unusual narration No.

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

Conspiracy

Obstruction of justice

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Yes.

Susan Atwell seduces Tom Farrell who then finds himself in big trouble, and fighting for his life. Her decision to attract and get involved with him, while carrying on with a married man, proves deadly for some and troublesome for others thus leaving no winners behind. With Susan, lust and betrayal leads to murder.

 

6. The instrument of fate Yes.

Lt. Commander Tom Farrell is asked to investigate a murder. When going over evidence, he learns that he is implicated and that it is he (Farrell himself) who he is looking for.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes.

Fear and confusion leads a loyal friend to commit suicide, as he is forced to accept, not only culpability for a crime he did not commit, but a humiliating rejection as well.

There is also Farrell’s panic-stricken angst, as tension builds during the second half of the story.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Manslaughter

Murder

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes.

The setting is Washington D.C. where we see a car chase on an expressway, and a foot chase through city streets which continues onto an underground metro-rail.

There is a scene where a character looks ambiguous standing on the sidewalk in shadows, the trees obscuring the light from the lamppost, thereby helping create a silhouette, reminiscent of classic noir nighttime lighting and settings seen in alleyways.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) No.

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Yes.

When the investigation heats up, Tom is at his wit’s-end with no one to turn to. Then he sees an old friend, Sam Hesselman (George Dzundza) and he asks for his help. Sam agrees to help at first, then begins to doubt Tom, thinking he is in over his head. Once more, Tom finds himself alone and desperate; hence the title of our film: No Way Out.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes.

Tom Farrell and the Pentagon’s intelligence agency are being manipulated by an unscrupulous power-hungry person.

“I am tired of weakness. I am faced with a grave problem, and I intend to resolve it quickly and cleanly.”

 

13. Greed Yes.

Not for money but for power and self preservation.

“You have no idea what men of power can do.”

 

14. Betrayal Yes.

There are multiple betrayals integral to the plot.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Yes.

I can say no more without revealing a plot twist.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” No.

 

13 of 16 neo-noir characteristic are identified here, suggesting that No Way Out is a valid neo-noir. The film is filled with suspense and is recommended here.

 

The film is sort of a remake of The Big Clock (1948) which was based on Kenneth Fearing’s 1946 novel. The setting in the 1948 film and novel is the offices of a publishing company inside a skyscraper. The setting in our film here is Washington D.C. and the Pentagon.

For fans of the earlier film, be warned that No Way Out in no way resembles The Big Clock . What both films have in common is a character desperately wanting to identify a person that may have witnessed a crime, then assigning that responsibility unto that person.

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The Conversation (1974)

dir. Francis Ford Coppola

 

Harry Caul is a surveillance expert. He and his team are hired to investigate a young woman and so they secretly record a conversation she is having with a man while walking in San Francisco’s Union Square. Close inspection of that recording has Caul believing that the pair may be in trouble.

This story is mostly about Caul and his line of work, moreover, how it affects his thinking and rationale, in relation to his current assignment. Mr. Caul gradually grows paranoid and in due course he becomes a victim of his own practices.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Half because it depends on other fundamentals.

There are scenes that employ chiaroscuro but the mood is further augmented by the pace and music in the film. The cinematographer, Bill Butler [One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Grease (1978)] is successful in giving the film the right colors and shades but those visuals then become more conceptual with the director’s deliberate style and the music* accompanying it. Combined, the chiaroscuro, pace, and music, help stir the emotional content.

 

2. Flashbacks Yes. (Audio and Video)

A conversation between Mark and Ann (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) is recorded by surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) and his team. Back at his lab, Caul and his associate, Stan (John Cazale) replay the audio tape over and over again, attempting to clean up background noise and improve the quality of the audio in order to better decipher the couple’s words. With each audio playback, not only are the men understanding the conversation much better, but the viewer also begins to see how the drama is slowly developing. As the two men listen to the tape, the audience, by way of a video, gets to see that conversation on the screen: advantage- viewer.

 

3. Unusual narration N/A

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

Conspiracy

Obstruction of justice

Tampering with evidence

Theft

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Half only.

We get to know little of our femme fatale, Meredith (Elizabeth MacRae) since she is on screen a short time, but long enough to carry out her objective. First she sweet-talks Caul and gains his confidence, then she seduces him and winds up in his bed. Finally, while Caul is asleep she leaves, taking with her, his work product: the audio tapes.

 

6. The instrument of fate N/A

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes.

Caul is feeling guilty over the role he may have played in a murder committed 12 years ago. He goes to a church and confesses to a priest:

 

People were hurt because of my work and I’m afraid it could happen again.”

 

His uneasiness is causing confusion relating to his present case and affecting his judgment.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Premeditated murder

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Half

The film takes place in San Francisco. The conversation recorded in Union Square, a public municipal plaza well populated by visitors. The few nighttime scenes add nothing to the noir theme in the film, therefore half point for this characteristic.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional)

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Yes.

Having recently split up with his girlfriend Amy (Teri Garr), Caul is feeling abandoned and appears as if at a loss. At a gathering with friends, he has this serious and heartfelt exchange with Meredith:

 

Harry: If you were a girl who waited for someone and you never really knew when he was going to come to see you. You just lived in a room alone and you knew nothing about him. And if you loved him and were patient with him, and even though he didn’t dare ever tell you anything about himself personally, even though he may have loved you, would you, would you, would you go back to him?

Meredith: How would I know- how would I know he loved me?

Harry: You’d have no way of knowing.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes.

Harry Caul begins to show signs of paranoia when instead of changing the locks to his apartment and mailbox, to ensure that no one has a copy, he tells his landlady:

 

“As of today, my mail will go to a post office box with no combination on it and no keys.”

 

Another indication of Caul’s paranoia becomes apparent when soon after he enters his hotel room, he perceives and hears events coming from the room next door that triggers an anxiety attack. He cringes while holding his head with both hands until he falls asleep. We wonder if he is losing his mind.

 

13. Greed N/A

 

14. Betrayal Yes.

A little different, but betrayal just the same. Harry Caul is contracted by the “Director” (Robert Duvall) to spy on Mark and Ann in exchange for a sizable fee. However, instead of abiding by the agreement, Caul gets involved in the case and his interference causes difficulties for himself and others.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

8.5 out of 16 for this slow-paced, but effective neo-noir.

 

* The theme from ‘The Conversation’ is usually heard whenever we see Harry Caul. It is a piano composition with a tinge of jazz written by David Shire. We also get to hear the classic Sophisticated Lady by Duke Ellington.

 

The Conversation and The Godfather: Part II (1974) were both written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and nominated for Best Picture in the same year.

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Manhattan Night (2016, dir. Brian DeCubelllis)

 

Manhattan Night gets 14 out of 16 on our list of neo-noir characteristics. The film didn’t get many good reviews when it opened, and I can see that some loose ends in the plot would frustrate many viewers (see below). But I still enjoyed it very much.

 

Porter Wren is an investigative reporter in New York City. He starts an affair with Caroline Crowley and offers to help her solve the death of her husband Simon, who died under mysterious circumstances. He soon regrets both decisions.

 

*****Spoilers*****   *****Spoilers*****   *****Spoilers*****   *****Spoilers*****

 

I do have some reservations about the story. Here are my questions that were left unanswered after my single viewing of the film on DVD:

1.  How did Caroline escape suspicion with all the blood she must have had on her after Simon was eviscerated?

2.  No one else, including Hobbs’s henchmen, could figure out that the key opened the padlock on the basement door of the building that had been demolished after Caroline had killed Simon and left his body there?

3.  No one else, including the police, was able to trace the mailings of the video copies to Norma Segal?

The film is based on Manhattan Nocturne, by Colin Harrison, and I wonder: Are these questions answered in the book? I guess I’ll have to read it to find out, but I shouldn’t have to; the film should have answered them.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color Plenty of nighttime scenes, the opening sequence is shot at night, in the rain, with the camera passing over tall skyscrapers in dizzying shots. Some of the flashbacks are transformed from a gritty look into full color, which pulls viewers in as though the events are happening in the present.

2. Flashbacks Flashbacks reveal the nature of Caroline Crowley’s relationship with her deceased husband. The film uses Simon Crowley’s videos as flashbacks. The entire film is told in flashback, but viewers don’t learn that until the end of the film.

3. Unusual narration See numbers 1 and 2. The narration is unusual, and it is explained with unusual camera techniques. The use of Crowley’s videos makes it easy to think that he is still alive sometimes!

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murder (or self-defense?), emotional abuse, domestic abuse, child abuse

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Caroline Crowley is the femme fatale, at least for part of the film.

6. The instrument of fate Porter Wren’s voice-over tells viewers, “When the gate shuts, my work and the city remain on the other side of the wall that surrounds our hidden home. Lisa and I fell in love with this house when we were first married. There’s something about surviving hundreds of years, like a secret. It kept me honest. Anywhere else, the house should be mundane. But in Manhattan, it was a miracle. My family slept inside, safe from the dangers of these dark streets, secluded too from the world of Caroline Crowley and her famous dead husband, who could not enter this sacred place, unless, of course, I brought them home with me.” Porter Wren tempts fate and loses everything, and the loss might be permanent.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Wren fears for his life and for the safety of his family. He is confused by the web that Caroline Crowley has woven for him, and he begins to doubt starting an affair with her or trying to help her discover what really happened to her husband.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Hobbs’s thugs threaten Wren and his family. Simon Crowley constantly threatens(ed) his wife with psychological and emotional abuse.

9. Urban and nighttime settings Most of the film takes place at night; all of it takes place in New York City, which manages to look gritty and grimy even in color.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Wren is alone fighting for his life and the safety of his family. Even though he prevails, he and his wife are separated and Wren is alone again at the end of the film, with his future uncertain.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Manipulation of Caroline Crowley by her husband Simon Crowley. Manipulation of Porter Wren by Caroline Crowley.

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal Marital betrayal is what starts the events of the film rolling. Wren pays a heavy price for his betrayal.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Wren is a noir protagonist who gets himself into trouble by making some seemingly minor bad decisions. Events quickly escalate out of his control, but not because he is evil. Caroline Crowley is both a victim and perpetrator. Hobbs is originally cast as the evil character, but he does help other characters reach closure in different ways.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Porter Wren figures out the mystery and saves himself and his family. He is an excellent investigative reporter and lives up to his reputation in New York City. But his marriage might be damaged permanently, which is a result of his own decisions and actions.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I am repeating the list of film noir and neo-noir characteristics (borrowings) we have been using to investigate neo-noir. Please use as many or as few characteristics as you like to discuss neo-noir. I started the discussion thread as a way to continue applying what we learned in Dr. Edwards’s course, TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir (aka Summer of Darkness: Investigating Film Noir).

 

Also included (below the list of characteristics) is the most up-to-date list of neo-noir films; we have been adding—and continue to add—titles to the list. The running list (divided between U.S. neo-noirs and neo-noirs from abroad) is alphabetized as a whole in case that’s easier for some folks to find what they are looking for. I will alternate between the film list alphabetized by decade and the list alphabetized in its entirety.

 

Characteristics borrowed from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.)

2. Flashbacks

3. Unusual narration

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale

6. The instrument of fate

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst)

8. Violence or the threat of violence

9. Urban and nighttime settings

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

13. Greed

14. Betrayal

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

 

List of alphabetized neo-noir titles, alphabetized by title:

After Hours (1985), dir. Martin Scorsese

All Good Things (2010), dir. Andrew Jarecki

Angel Heart (1997), dir. Alan Parker

 

Barton Fink (1991), dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

Batman Begins (2005), dir. Christopher Nolan

A Better Tomorrow (1986), dir. John Woo

The Big Easy (1986), dir. Jim McBride

The Big Lebowski (1998), dir. Joel Coen

The Big Sleep (1978), dir. Michael Winner 

The Black Dahlia (2006), dir. Brian DePalma

Blade Runner (1982), dir. Ridley Scott

Blink (1994), dir. Michael Apted

Blood Simple (1984), dir. Joel Coen

Blue Valentine (2010), dir. Derek Cianfrance

Blue Velvet (1986), dir. David Lynch

Body Heat (1981), dir. Lawrence Kasdan

Bound (1996), dir. The Wachowski Brothers

Branded to Kill (1967) dir. Seijun Suzuki

Brick (2006), dir. Rian Johnson

Broken City (2013), dir. Allen Hughes

Bullitt (1968), dir. Peter Yates

 

Cape Fear (1962), dir. J. Lee Thompson

Chinatown (1974), dir. Roman Polanski

City of Hope (1991), dir. John Sayles

Collateral (2004), dir. Michael Mann

Criminal (2004), dir. Gregory Jacobs

 

Dark City (1998), dir. Alex Proyas

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), dir. Carl Reiner

Deep Cover (1992), dir. Bill Duke

Derailed (2005), dir. Mikael Hafstrom

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), dir. Carl Franklin

Down by Law (1986), dir. Jim Jarmusch

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), dir. Stanley Kubrick

Drive (2011), dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

 

The Equalizer (2014), dir. Antoine Fuqua

 

Farewell, My Lovely (1975), dir. Dick Richards

Fargo (1996), dir. Joel Coen

Femme Fatale (2002), dir. Brian de Palma

Following (1999), dir. Christopher Nolan

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), dir. Peter Yates

 

Gangs of New York (2002), dir. Martin Scorsese

Gangster Squad (2013), dir. Ruben Fleischer

Get Carter (1971) dir. Mike Hodges

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), dir. David Fincher

Gone, Baby, Gone (2007), dir. Ben Affleck

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), dir. George Clooney

 

Hard Boiled (1992) dir. John Woo

Harper (1966), dir. Jack Smight

Heat (1995) dir. Michael Mann

Hollywoodland (2006), dir. Allen Coulter

House of Games (1987), dir. David Mamet

 

The Ice Harvest (2005), dir. Harold Ramis

Insomnia (2002), dir. Christopher Nolan

Irrational Man (2015), dir. Woody Allen

 

Jackie Brown (1997) dir. Quentin Tarantino

Jade (1995) dir. William Friedkin

 

Killshot (2009), dir. John Madden

King of Comedy (1982), dir. Martin Scorsese

King of New York (1990) dir. Abel Ferrara

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), dir. Shane Black

Klute, (1971), dir. Alan J. Pakula

 

L.A. Confidential (1997), dir. Curtis Hanson

The Last Seduction (1994), dir. John Dahl

The Long Goodbye (1973) dir. Robert Altman

The Long Good Friday (1980) dir. John Mackenzie

Lost River (2014), dir. Ryan Gosling

 

The Manchurian Candidate (1962), dir. John Frankenheimer

Manhattan Night (2016), dir. Brian DeCubellis

Manhunter (1986), dir. Michael Mann

Marlowe (1969) dir. Paul Bogart
Memento (2000), dir. Christopher Nolan

Mickey One (1965), dir. Arthur Penn

Miller’s Crossing (1990), dir. Joel Coen

Mulholland Drive (2001), dir. David Lynch

Mulholland Falls (1996), dir. Lee Tamahori

Mystic River (2003) dir. Clint Eastwood

 

The Naked Kiss (1964), dir. Samuel Fuller

The Nice Guys (2016), dir. Shane Black

Night Moves (1975) dir. Arthur Penn

Nightcrawler (2014), dir. Dan Gilroy

Not Forgotten (2009), dir. Dror Soref

No Way Out (1987), dir. Roger Donaldson

 

Oldboy (2003), dir. Chan-wook Park

One False Move (1992), dir. Carl Franklin

Only God Forgives (2013), dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

Out of Time (2003), dir. Carl Franklin

 

Palmetto (1998), dir. Volker Schlondorff

Pennies from Heaven (1981), dir. Herbert Ross

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), dir. Derek Cianfrance

Point Blank (1967), dir. John Boorman

The Public Eye (1992), dir. Howard Franklin

Pulp (1972), dir. Mike Hodges

 

Q&A (1990), dir. Sydney Lumet

 

A Rage in Harlem (1991) dir. Bill Duke

Raging Bull (1980), dir. Martin Scorsese

The Red Riding Trilogy (2009), dirs. Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker

Red Rock West (1992), dir. John Dahl

Reservoir Dogs (1992) dir. Quentin Tarantino

Romeo Is Bleeding (1993), dir. Peter Medak

 

Sea of Love (1989) dir. Harold Becker

Serial Mom (1994), dir. John Waters

Se7en (1995), dir. David Fincher

Sexy Beast (2000), dir. Jonathan Glazer

Shock Corridor (1963) dir. Samuel Fuller

Shutter Island (2010), dir. Martin Scorsese

Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir. Jonathan Demme

Something Wild (1986), dir. Jonathan Demme

State of Grace (1990) dir. Phil Joanou

Stonehearst Asylum (2014), dir. Brad Anderson

Stormy Monday (1988), dir. Mike Figgis

The Sweeney (2012), dir. Nick Love

 

Taxi Driver (1976), dir. Martin Scorsese

The Town (2010), dir. Ben Affleck

Training Day (2001), dir. Antoine Fugua

True Romance (1993) Tony Scott

Twisted (2004), dir. Philip Kaufman

2 Guns (2013), dir. Baltasar Kormakur

The Two Jakes (1990), dir. Jack Nicholson

 

Underworld U.S.A. (1961), dir. Samuel Fuller

The Usual Suspects (1995), dir. Bryan Singer

U-Turn (1997), dir. Oliver Stone

 

Wait Until Dark (1967), dir. Terence Young

Winter’s Bone (2010), dir. Debra Granik

 

Year of the Dragon (1985), dir. Michael Cimino

 

Zodiac (2007), dir. David Fincher

 

Neo-noirs from abroad, alphabetized by title:

Amores perros (2001) dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, from Mexico

Animal Kingdom (2010), dir. David Michôd, from Australia

El aura (The Aura) (2005), dir. Fabián Bielinsky, from Argentina (France and Spain)

 

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), dir. Diao Yinan, from China

Blow-Up (1966), dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, from United Kingdom and Italy

 

Caché (Hidden) (2005), dir. Michael Haneke, from France

Le cercle rouge (The Red Circle) (1970), dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, from France

The Crimson Rivers (2000), dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, from France

 

Dancing on the Edge (television series) (2013), dir. Stephen Poliakoff

Delicatessen (1991), dirs. Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, from France

La demoiselle d’honneur (The Bridesmaid) (2004 in France), dir. Claude Chabrol, from France

Le doulos (1962), dir Jean-Pierre Melville, from France

 

Flic Story (1975), dir. Jacques Deray, from France

Foreign Land (1996), dirs. Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, from Brazil

 

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (2009), dir. Daniel Alfredson, from Sweden

The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009), dir. Daniel Alfredson, from Sweden

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), dir. Niels Arden Oplev, from Sweden

 

La haine (2012), dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, from France

 

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003), dir. Mike Hodges, from the United Kingdom

In Bruges (2008), dir. Martin McDonagh, from Britain and the United States

Insomnia (1997), dir Erik Skjoldbjær, from Norway

 

Jerichow (2008), dir. Christian Petzold, from Germany

Just Another Love Story (2007), dir. Ole Bornedal, from Denmark

 

Kill Me Three Times (2014), dir. Kriv Stenders, from Australia

Kill Your Friends (2015), dir. Owen Harris, from United Kingdom

 

Lantana (2001), dir. Ray Lawrence, from Australia

León: The Professional (1994), dir. Luc Besson, from France

 

The Moon in the Gutter (La lune dans le caniveau) (1983), dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix, from France

 

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One) (2006), dir. Guillaume Canet, from France

Nine Queens (2000), dir. Fabián Bielinsky, from Argentina

 

The Outside Man (Un homme est mort) (1972), dir. Jacques Deray, from France and Italy

 

Red Road (2006), dir. Andrea Arnold, from Scotland (United Kingdom)

 

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), dir. Juan José Campanella, from Argentina

Shallow Grave (1995), dir. Danny Boyle, from the United Kingdom

The Square (2008), dir. Nash Edgerton, from Australia

 

Thirty-Sixth (36th) Precinct (2004), dir. Olivier Marchal, from France

Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) (1960), dir. François Truffaut, from France

 

Where the Truth Lies (2005), dir. Atom Egoyan, from Canada

Wild Tales (2014), dir. Damian Szifron, from Spain and Argentina

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Dir. Tom Ford

 

A writer, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), sends his former wife, art curator Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a manuscript of his new novel entitled Nocturnal Animals. The novel’s plot is an integral part of the film and it makes a profound effect on Susan making this film an example of psychological revenge through literary art.

 

I’ve read reviews of this film; most are very positive. However, among the negative, I get a sense that these reviewers are unfamiliar with the noir/neo-noir genre. I truly believe one needs to be well attuned to the characteristics of film noir to understand its storytelling techniques and the ambiguity that it entails (most negating critics were disappointed by the ending, which, to me, made sense).

 

Nocturnal Animals has three different narratives. There are the two stories (past and present) in the real world and one in the fictional world. As Susan reads her ex-husband’s novel, we are taken into that fictional world. These two worlds seem to parallel each other making the novel an allegory for their failed marriage.

 

I was very impressed with Gyllenhaal’s performance, and Michael Shannon’s portrayal of a disenchanted sheriff deputy was magnificent. I was most intrigued by the fictional world in its cinematography and the acting.

 

Not counting the non-applicable item #10, this film meets 15/15 characteristics.

 

 

***Warning! Spoilers abound!***

 

Characteristics borrowed from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color.

Yes. There are many scenes where we see a pale Susan often surrounded in darkness. There is also stark black/white contrast with minimal pops of color.

 

2. Flashbacks

Yes. Susan reflects on her failed marriage to Edward.

 

3. Unusual narration

Definitely. We have parallel plots of the real world and the fictional world (as written in Sheffield’s novel).

 

4. Crime/planning a crime

Yes. Within the fictional world, Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal) pursues a trio of criminals responsible for his wife and daughter’s rape and murder. He colludes with local deputy sheriff Bobby Andes (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Shannon) to enact Texas justice on the trio.

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale

Yes. I see Susan as a femme fatale on two levels. One: her betrayal of her former husband and the pain she caused him. Two: the choices she’s made have also harmed her.

 

6. The instrument of fate

Yes; the novel. I would say the novel has impacted Susan greatly forcing her to evaluate her life and accept responsibility for her actions.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst).

Yes for several characters.

In the real world, Susan is often consumed with guilt and self-doubt. Edward is consumed with emotional pain and penning his novel has been quite cathartic for him.

 

In the fictional world, Tony is wrought with guilt over the brutal slaying of his family. He sees himself as a failed protector. Dep. Bobby Andes is filled with angst against his department and failed justice.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence

Yes. In the fictional world, a trio of outlaws terrorizes the Hastings family before they rape and murder the wife and daughter. Dep. Andes and Tony embark on revenge of the trio with plans to take matters into their own hands.

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings

Yes. In the real world, the present day setting is Los Angeles with lots of nighttime shots. The flashbacks are set in New York and exclusively nighttime.

 

In the fictional world, the setting is West Texas. It begins with a night setting with the requisite shots of the lonely highway. However, the rest of the story has a “soleil noir” effect. The scenes are reminiscent of Bad Day at Black Rock.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional)

n/a

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

Yes. In the real world, Susan is consumed with guilt in a loveless second marriage. The feeling of loneliness is highlighted by her solo onscreen shots in darkness or in expansive settings making her a miniscule person.

 

During her flashback scenes, Susan is obsessed with status but falls for a “romantic” man (in the literary sense) and she is conflicted. She also comes to the realization that she is much like her mother, whom she tries to avoid becoming.

 

In the fictional world, Tony is emotionally fragile and laments his failure as the protective husband and father. His duty to his family is now to bring their murderers to justice.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

Yes; it is the basis of this film. The point of the novel is an act of psychological revenge against the former spouse. This fact is highlighted in the film’s closing scene.

 

13. Greed

Yes. Susan is consumed with having high status as highlighted by her career choice and the decision to leave her first husband.

 

14. Betrayal

Yes. Susan betrayed her first husband twice. The first act was her extra-marital affair. The second act I will withhold as I feel it confirms the novel as an allegory for Susan and Edward’s marriage.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

Maybe. It is pretty clear who the “good” and “evil” characters are. However, a viewer could question Dep. Andes’s character. He does make choices that would be considered illegal under the rule of due process.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

Yes. In the real world, I feel that Edward is triumphant with his novel’s publication; although the impact on Susan may be more bittersweet.

In the fictional world, Dep. Andes’s expertise and influence on Tony can be considered triumphant but it comes with consequences.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Dir. Tom Ford

 

 

I am looking forward to seeing Nocturnal Animals - you beat me to it!

 

To be honest, I didn't read your entire review here all the way through because this is one I really want to see and had already planned on seeing, but I'll read it more closely when I see the film.

 

And I did add it our list of films. Thank you for the reminder.

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Broken City (2013)

dir. Allen Hughes

 

Mayor Nicholas Hostetler is running for re-election, but faces a crisis: New Yorkers, they’ve elected drunks, crooks, Italians, Jews, and Blacks to that seat, but what they will not elect is some guy whose wife is #$@&%*! some other guy behind his back. So he hires ex-cop Billy Taggart, now a private Investigator, to find out who this man is. Taggart finds his man and in the interim also discovers a political scam to defraud the public.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes

The colors and lighting in many scenes give the film a neo-noir feel, like when an interrogation is ominously moved into a dim bathroom and the soft cool-blue hue captures and foreshadows the seriousness of the moment.

 

2. Flashbacks Yes

The film opens with a flashback then the jumps seven years forward to the present. Later, another flashback is presented.

 

3. Unusual narration N/A

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes

Blackmail

Coercive interrogation

Conspiracy

Corruption

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Yes to both.

Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones)

Her good friend, Paul Andrews, (Kyle Chandler) is murdered while receiving documents of evidence she had asked him for. And although she certainly dresses and talks the part, at this point we are not yet sure if she is. However, late in the film, a piece of information comes to our attention during an arrest, which further clarifies her motive- thus the femme fatale categorization.

Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe)

He charms Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) by calling him a hero, pays him extremely well when hiring him and then when Taggart least expects it, he turns the tables on him.

 

6. The instrument of fate Yes

Billy Taggart had opportunities to change the outcome for some in this story if only he’d paid more attention to certain indicators, such as the hefty sum he received from the Mayor or the warning he received from Cathleen, “I’ll give you $50,000 to give up [the work you are doing for the Mayor.] This is not what you think it is, Mr. Taggart. Walk away,” thus missing a chance to get it right, as this conversation, occurring later, reminds him and us:

Cathleen: What do you want Mr. Taggart?

Taggart: I want to know what’s going on.

Cathleen: Oh, you want to know what’s going on now. You couldn’t care less the other night. Paul Andrews was my friend, Mr. Taggart. Do you understand that? My very dear friend. And if you were not such a cut rate dick, maybe he would still be alive today. But you are cut rate. You are cheap to hire and you’re cheaper to throw away. I gave you the opportunity to do the right thing and you refused.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes

Seconds after murder charges against Police officer Taggart are dismissed, he is summons to the Mayor’s office. This is the first of three meetings the two men will have over the course of the film all in the Mayor’s office and all riddled with angst.

 

In their first meeting, the Mayor tells Taggart he’s a hero in his eyes but he must leave the force because, “…uncomfortable evidence has come to light and should it come out…” After Taggart objects, the Mayor tells him, “There are some wars you fight and some wars you walk away from. This is not the fighting kind.” The fear and confusion on Taggart’s face is understandable given the sudden firing.

 

Then, several years later, the Mayor again calls on Taggart, now a small-time private investigator. The Mayor wants him to find the S.O.B. who’s sleeping with his wife, “I want [pictures]…I want to know who he is, I want to know where he’s from.” He offers $50,000 (half upfront.) The Mayor’s inability to sit still, taking the liberty to finish Taggart’s drink and the overpayment for services wanted is indicative of his desperation.

 

Lastly, once the investigation is over, Taggart pays the Mayor a final visit.

Taggart: This is how this works. I have an e-mail out box with a scan copy. I click one button and a hundred different newsmen are going to read your name alongside [the document]. You resign, you step down [and I’ll] keep my mouth shut…That’s the deal.

The viewer is led to believe that the Mayor is defeated. Then comes his deliberate response-

Mayor: I want the originals, I want all the copies, and I want your case files by 9:00 am tomorrow. Final demands can often lead to self-doubt and other turmoil; both men convey this in their expression.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes

Coercion

Murder

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes

The setting is New York City: the tenements, streets, bridges, skyscraper. We see it at street level and from the air. We get to see a violent confrontation in a dark alley. There are several nighttime scenes that lend to noir.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Yes.

Taggart is an alienated man, since his bout with failure seems never-ending; he is fired by the police force, his Private Investigation business is doing badly, his girlfriend leaves him, and then just when he believes that he has the goods on a corrupt politician, he realizes he must first sacrifice his freedom in order to close the case and have justice prevail.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes

Mayor Hostetler directly manipulates Taggart, by having him think he’s out looking for one thing, for one purpose, when in actuality, Taggart, unknowingly, is being used for something else and for a different reason.

 

13. Greed Yes

$2,000,000,000 worth!

 

14. Betrayal Yes

The Mayor not only betrays Taggart when misinforming him as to the true nature of his investigation, but he also betrays the public’s trust with his corruption.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Yes

Billy Taggart clearly epitomizes a polar-spectrum of moral values; from the taking of life at one end to his selfless action to save others, at the other end.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

Broken City is a better film than the negative reviews it received, would suggest. Still, in my opinion, it has one major flaw; Russell Crowe is not convincing as the Mayor. It’s either a big-time miscast or the role is not fully developed, (under-written perhaps.) Far from perfect- but still a good neo-noir film.

 

13 of 16 neo-noir characteristics identified.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Collateral (2004)

dir. Michael Mann

 

Max (Jamie Foxx) drives a taxicab for a living in Los Angeles and has dreams of one day owning a limousine company. As fate would have it, he awakes from a moment of deep thought recognizing he’s just allowed a fare to move on, so he calls the traveler back with apologies. The traveler is Vincent, (Tom Cruise) sharply dressed in a grey suit, well groomed and wearing dark glasses. Vincent jumps in, then having reached his destination, he has a request:

Vincent: I’m in town on a real estate deal. A closing. One night. I got five stops to make, collect signatures. See some friends. Then I got a 6:00 am out of LAX. Why don’t you hang with me?

Max: The car is not for hire. It’s against regulations.

Vincent: These guys don’t pay you sick leave. How much you pull down a shift?

Max: $350, $400

Vincent: I’ll make it $600. Plus an extra $100 if you get me to LAX [on time].

 

A night of unexpected surprises, thrills, and deadly encounters await these two men, with Los Angeles as a backdrop.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes

The colors are vivid, the shadows distinct and the city radiates noir as a result; mostly at night. (See No. 9)

 

2. Flashbacks N/A

3. Unusual narration N/A

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes

Coercion

Conspiracy to murder

Moving dead body

Taking hostage

Witness tampering

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

 

6. The instrument of fate Yes

The randomness in how Vincent and Max cross paths, together with how events play out, compels us to consider whether fate had a hand in both. Kudos to the writer.

Max: Why don’t you just kill me and get another cab driver?

Vincent: Because you’re good. We’re in this together. Fate intertwined. Cosmic coincidence.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes

Here are three examples of high anxiety depicting fear of failure, the unknown, and death:

 

1. Vincent’s is shocked when he sees his briefcase, containing crucial information needed to complete a time-sensitive mission, disposed of.

“All my prep is in there. You are screwing with my work!”

2. A body smashes atop Max’s cab and shortly after, he’s held at gunpoint by the person responsible. Horror-stricken, he asks, “You killed him?”

3. A proficient assassin takes aim at his helpless victim, who becomes aware that death is certain now that she is unable to defend herself.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes

Cold-blooded murder

Mass killings

Threatening to kill

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes

The setting is Los Angeles, filmed in neo-noir fashion. An aerial shot looking straight down upon the city at night, the images moving slowly across the screen as Johann Sebastian Bach’s Air on G string* plays softly, transcends expectations. The cinematographer and director really do great in capturing L.A. in all the nighttime scenes. The film’s time span is sunset to sunrise.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Yes

These two comments by Vincent leave no doubt as to his nihilism:

 

Get with it. Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars, and a speck on one, in a blink. That’s us, lost in space. The cop, you, me; Who notices?

 

There is no good reason, there is no bad reason to live or to die.”

Such sentiments by individuals like Vincent are indications that they believe life is meaningless and without value.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes

Vincent is battling something within and it could be that he is emotionally conflicted. Max is driving his cab (Vincent his passenger in the backseat) along an avenue and stops, but not at a red light. Vincent, not understanding, looks around and spots a wolf/coyote/fox (?) crossing the avenue, then another and another. Max appears to be in deep thought, as the animals cross the street, while Vincent seems perplexed by this display of compassion and kindness, as if not comprehending the necessity for such thing. He follows the canids, then looks over at Max while an existential rock song plays.** No words are spoken between them. But when you consider his words from # 11 above along with the ones from #16 below, we begin to see how Vincent could be in conflict with who he is, (a nihilist) and what he feels (a need to fill a moral void).

 

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal N/A

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Yes

There is no doubt Vincent is cold and without empathy, yet there are moments when he shows signs of decency and good will:

“You attract attention, you’re going to get people killed who didn’t need to be.”

“Buy you a drink.”

“She carried you in her womb for nine months.”

“You’re alive. I saved you. Do I get any thanks?”

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Yes

We do not get the sense that good triumphs. It is more like the will to live proves stronger than the fervor to kill. In this case the instinctive will to live stands in place of expertise and that- triumphs.

 

10 of 16 characteristics noted in this well produced neo-noir thriller. The cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Javier Bardem.

 

* Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion - Air (youtube.com)

 

** Shadow on the Sun performed by Audioslave

2nd verse

I could read your thoughts

Tell you what you saw

And never say a word

3nd verse

Staring at the loss

Looking for the cause

And never really sure

Nothing but a hole

To live without a soul

And nothing to be learned

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Silver City (2004, dir. John Sayles)

 

Silver City is a combination political commentary, murder mystery, and neo-noir. Chuck Raven, the campaign manager for Dicky Pilager (supposedly based on George W. Bush) hires Danny O’Brien, a private investigator, to harass anyone who holds a grudge against Pilager because Pilager hooks a dead body in Arapahoe Lake during the filming of a political ad about the environment. O’Brien starts to probe more deeply into the death than Raven would like, and he invites more trouble for himself and others because of the information that he uncovers.

 

*****Spoilers*****       *****Spoilers*****       *****Spoilers*****

 

I thought the ending of Silver City was bleak. John Sayles (writer, director, editor) and Maggie Renzi (producer) talk about an optimistic interpretation of the ending during the DVD commentary that I listened to. Apparently, Renzi found reason to be positive because Pilager was back at the lake filming another political ad, and the cameras are rolling when another disaster strikes. If I hadn’t heard her comments, I would never have even considered that as an interpretation, but I guess anything is possible!

 

I recommend the audio commentary by Salyes and Renzi because they give lots of insights about the making of the film, and they make comparisons to noir literature and other neo-noirs.

 

Silver City gets 10½ out of 16 on our list of neo-noir characteristics.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color N/A I can’t count this one for Silver City. In his DVD commentary, Sayles talks about emphasizing colors (brown, green, blue) found in Colorado’s environment and dressing Danny O’Brien in black to emphasize his outsider status, but these details didn’t amount to “noir” for me.

2. Flashbacks Maybe one-half point. The use of flashbacks is limited, mostly during the sequence when Lupe translates for Danny O’Brien and viewers are shown (in flashback) what two migrant workers know about another migrant worker’s death.

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murder, political corruption, abuse of migrant workers

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate Danny O’Brien is a victim of fate for most of the film. He is downtrodden since losing a job as a reporter (an event that happens before the start of Silver City), and he has let others and events shape his life from that point on. He slowly comes to realize that he can at least take responsibility where he can and then move forward.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Fear and confusion are predominant emotions, mostly because those with economic and political power benefit from others’ fear and confusion.

8. Violence or the threat of violence The migrant workers are always facing threats to their physical safety. Danny O’Brien and Tony Guerra are victims of attempted murder.

9. Urban and nighttime settings N/A

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Danny O’Brien is alone in the world and an outsider in Denver. On the DVD commentary by John Sayles and Maggie Renzi, Sayles and Renzi talk about Danny’s black clothes: His clothes were chosen to emphasize his outsider status in a city where most people wear athletic gear and Western wear. I didn’t notice O’Brien’s clothes, but his downtrodden isolation was evident.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) The Pilagers and Wes Benteen manipulate everything and everyone for their own economic and political gain. Wes Benteen doesn’t have much screen time, but his ambition and greed are referred to so often by other characters that they’re inescapable.

13. Greed Most of the plot revolves around greed.

14. Betrayal One could make a very strong case that the voters and ordinary people (citizen and noncitizen) are betrayed here. Personal betrayal is not a dominant theme in Silver City.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Although there seems to be a clear distinction between good and evil characters in this film, Danny O’Brien and many of the supporting characters follow a trajectory that shows how they change, either throughout the film or as a result of past events that they reveal in dialogue. One character who seems hostile at first turns out to have the interests of people who can’t defend themselves in mind, and this person protects them as best as is reasonably possible under the circumstances.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Expert (and corrupt) business and political maneuvering wins in Silver City.

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I am repeating the list of film noir and neo-noir characteristics (borrowings) we have been using to investigate neo-noir. Please use as many or as few characteristics as you like to discuss neo-noir. I started the discussion thread as a way to continue applying what we learned in Dr. Edwards’s course, TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir (aka Summer of Darkness: Investigating Film Noir).

 

Also included (below the list of characteristics) is the most up-to-date list of neo-noir films; I personally have added several neo-noirs this time to the list. The list is broken down by decade, and alphabetized within each decade.

 

In the future, I’ll alternate between the neo-noir film list alphabetized by decade and the list alphabetized in its entirety.

 

Characteristics borrowed from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.)

2. Flashbacks

3. Unusual narration

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale

6. The instrument of fate

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst)

8. Violence or the threat of violence

9. Urban and nighttime settings

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

13. Greed

14. Betrayal

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

 

List of neo-noir titles, alphabetized by decade:

Branded to Kill (1967) dir. Seijun Suzuki

Bullitt (1968), dir. Peter Yates

Cape Fear (1962), dir. J. Lee Thompson

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), dir. Stanley Kubrick

Harper (1966), dir. Jack Smight

The Manchurian Candidate (1962), dir. John Frankenheimer

 Marlowe (1969), dir. Paul Bogart

Mickey One (1965), dir. Arthur Penn
The Naked Kiss (1964), dir. Samuel Fuller
Point Blank (1967), dir. John Boorman

Shock Corridor (1963) dir. Samuel Fuller

Underworld U.S.A. (1961), dir. Samuel Fuller

Wait Until Dark (1967), dir. Terence Young

 

The Big Sleep (1978), dir. Michael Winner 

Chinatown (1974), dir. Roman Polanski

Farewell, My Lovely (1975), dir. Dick Richards

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), dir. Peter Yates

Get Carter (1971) dir. Mike Hodges

Klute, (1971), dir. Alan J. Pakula

The Long Goodbye (1973) dir. Robert Altman

Night Moves (1975) dir. Arthur Penn

Pulp (1972), dir. Mike Hodges

Taxi Driver (1976), dir. Martin Scorsese

 

After Hours (1985), dir. Martin Scorsese

A Better Tomorrow (1986), dir. John Woo

The Big Easy (1986), dir. Jim McBride

Blade Runner (1982), dir. Ridley Scott

Blood Simple (1984), dir. Joel Coen

Blue Velvet (1986), dir. David Lynch

Body Heat (1981), dir. Lawrence Kasdan

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), dir. Carl Reiner

Down by Law (1986), dir. Jim Jarmusch

House of Games (1987), dir. David Mamet

King of Comedy (1982), dir. Martin Scorsese

The Long Good Friday (1980) dir. John Mackenzie

Manhunter (1986), dir. Michael Mann

The Morning After (1986), dir. Sidney Lumet

No Way Out (1987), dir. Roger Donaldson

Pennies from Heaven (1981), dir. Herbert Ross

Raging Bull (1980), dir. Martin Scorsese

Sea of Love (1989) dir. Harold Becker

Something Wild (1986), dir. Jonathan Demme

Stormy Monday (1988), dir. Mike Figgis

Year of the Dragon (1985), dir. Michael Cimino

 

Angel Heart (1997), dir. Alan Parker

Barton Fink (1991), dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

The Big Lebowski (1998), dir. Joel Coen

Blink (1994), dir. Michael Apted

Bound (1996), dir. The Wachowski Brothers

City of Hope (1991), dir. John Sayles

Dark City (1998), dir. Alex Proyas

Deep Cover (1992), dir. Bill Duke

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), dir. Carl Franklin

Fargo (1996), dir. Joel Coen

Following (1999), dir. Christopher Nolan

Hard Boiled (1992) dir. John Woo

Heat (1995) dir. Michael Mann

Jackie Brown (1997) dir. Quentin Tarantino

Jade (1995) dir. William Friedkin

King of New York (1990) dir. Abel Ferrara

L.A. Confidential (1997), dir. Curtis Hanson

The Last Seduction (1994), dir. John Dahl

Limbo (1999), dir. John Sayles

Lone Star (1996), dir. John Sayles

Mulholland Falls (1996), dir. Lee Tamahori

Miller’s Crossing (1990), dir. Joel Coen

One False Move (1992), dir. Carl Franklin

Palmetto (1998), dir. Volker Schlondorff

The Public Eye (1992), dir. Howard Franklin

Q&A (1990), dir. Sydney Lumet

A Rage in Harlem (1991) dir. Bill Duke

Red Rock West (1992), dir. John Dahl

Reservoir Dogs (1992) dir. Quentin Tarantino

Romeo Is Bleeding (1993), dir. Peter Medak

Serial Mom (1994), dir. John Waters

Se7en (1995), dir. David Fincher

Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir. Jonathan Demme

State of Grace (1990) dir. Phil Joanou

True Romance (1993) Tony Scott

The Two Jakes (1990), dir. Jack Nicholson

The Usual Suspects (1995), dir. Bryan Singer

U-Turn (1997), dir. Oliver Stone

 

Batman Begins (2005), dir. Christopher Nolan

The Black Dahlia (2006), dir. Brian DePalma

Brick (2006), dir. Rian Johnson

Collateral (2004) dir. Michael Mann

Criminal (2004), dir. Gregory Jacobs

Derailed (2005), dir. Mikael Hafstrom

Femme Fatale (2002), dir. Brian de Palma

Gangs of New York (2002), dir. Martin Scorsese

Gone, Baby, Gone (2007), dir. Ben Affleck

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), dir. George Clooney

Hollywoodland (2006), dir. Allen Coulter

The Ice Harvest (2005), dir. Harold Ramis

Insomnia (2002), dir. Christopher Nolan

Killshot (2009), dir. John Madden

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), dir. Shane Black

Memento (2000), dir. Christopher Nolan

Mulholland Drive (2001), dir. David Lynch

Mystic River (2003) dir. Clint Eastwood

Not Forgotten (2009), dir. Dror Soref

Oldboy (2003) dir. Chan-wook Park

Out of Time (2003), dir. Carl Franklin

The Red Riding Trilogy (2009), dirs. Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker

Sexy Beast (2000), dir. Jonathan Glazer

Silver City (2004), dir. John Sayles

Training Day (2001), dir. Antoine Fugua

Twisted (2004), dir. Philip Kaufman

Welcome to Collinwood (2002), dir. by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Zodiac (2007), dir. David Fincher

 

All Good Things (2010), dir. Andrew Jarecki

Blue Valentine (2010), dir. Derek Cianfrance

Broken City (2013), dir. Allen Hughes

Drive (2011), dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

The Equalizer (2014), dir. Antoine Fuqua

Gangster Squad (2013), dir. Ruben Fleischer

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), dir. David Fincher

Go for Sisters (2103), dir John Sayles

Irrational Man (2015), dir. Woody Allen

Lost River (2014), dir. Ryan Gosling

Manhattan Night (2016), dir. Brian DeCubellis

The Nice Guys (2016), dir. Shane Black

Nightcrawler (2014), dir. Dan Gilroy

Nocturnal Animals (2016), dir. Tom Ford

Only God Forgives (2013), dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), dir. Derek Cianfrance

Shutter Island (2010), dir. Martin Scorsese

Stonehearst Asylum (2014), dir. Brad Anderson

The Sweeney (2012), dir. Nick Love

The Town (2010), dir. Ben Affleck

2 Guns (2013), dir. Baltasar Kormakur

Winter’s Bone (2010), dir. Debra Granik

 

Neo-noirs from abroad, alphabetized by decade:

Blow-Up (1966), dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, from United Kingdom and Italy

Le doulos (1962), dir Jean-Pierre Melville, from France

Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) (1960), dir. François Truffaut, from France

 

Le cercle rouge (The Red Circle) (1970), dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, from France

Flic Story (1975), dir. Jacques Deray, from France

The Outside Man (Un homme est mort) (1972), dir. Jacques Deray, from France and Italy

 

The Moon in the Gutter (La lune dans le caniveau) (1983), dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix, from France

 

Delicatessen (1991), dirs. Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, from France

Foreign Land (1996), dirs. Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, from Brazil

Insomnia (1997), dir Erik Skjoldbjær, from Norway

León: The Professional (1994), dir. Luc Besson, from France

Shallow Grave (1995), dir. Danny Boyle, from the United Kingdom

 

Amores perros (2001) dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, from Mexico

El aura (The Aura) (2005), dir. Fabián Bielinsky, from Argentina (France and Spain)

 

Caché (Hidden) (2005), dir. Michael Haneke, from France

The Crimson Rivers (2000), dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, from France

La demoiselle d’honneur (The Bridesmaid) (2004 in France), dir. Claude Chabrol, from France

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (2009), dir. Daniel Alfredson, from Sweden

The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009), dir. Daniel Alfredson, from Sweden

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), dir. Niels Arden Oplev, from Sweden

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003), dir. Mike Hodges, from the United Kingdom

In Bruges (2008), dir. Martin McDonagh, from Britain and the United States

Jerichow (2008), dir. Christian Petzold, from Germany

Just Another Love Story (2007), dir. Ole Bornedal, from Denmark

Lantana (2001), dir. Ray Lawrence, from Australia

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One) (2006), dir. Guillaume Canet, from France

Nine Queens (2000), dir. Fabián Bielinsky, from Argentina

Red Road (2006), dir. Andrea Arnold, from Scotland (United Kingdom)

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), dir. Juan José Campanella, from Argentina

The Square (2008), dir. Nash Edgerton, from Australia

Thirty-Sixth (36th) Precinct (2004), dir. Olivier Marchal, from France

Where the Truth Lies (2005), dir. Atom Egoyan, from Canada

 

Animal Kingdom (2010), dir. David Michôd, from Australia

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), dir. Diao Yinan, from China

Dancing on the Edge (television series) (2013), dir. Stephen Poliakoff

La haine (2012), dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, from France

Kill Me Three Times (2014), dir. Kriv Stenders, from Australia

Kill Your Friends (2015), dir. Owen Harris, from United Kingdom

Wild Tales (2014), dir. Damian Szifron, from Spain and Argentina

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I am repeating the list of film noir and neo-noir characteristics (borrowings) we have been using to investigate neo-noir. Please use as many or as few characteristics as you like to discuss neo-noir. I started the discussion thread as a way to continue applying what we learned in Dr. Edwards’s course, TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir (aka Summer of Darkness: Investigating Film Noir).

 

And in contrast (for those interested and for discussion) here is a chronological list of the Neo Noirs that strongly emphasize the Visual and Stylistic aspects of Classic Noir. If they don't have these aspects they are NIPOs, Noir In Plot Only. I feel that Marianne's lineup weighs the characteristic list entirely too equally. What got noir noticed in the first place was it's Visual characteristics, hence my emphasis on the Visual. Almost none of the Hollywood remakes of Classic Noirs get this aspect right. i.e., compare The Narrow Margin (1952) with it's action jazzed up remake of 1990.  B)  :D

 

Visual NEO-NOIR Chronological film list (a work in progress, I'll add more as I come across them)
 
Never let Go (1960) 
The 3rd Voice (1960)
Blast Of Silence (1961) 
Underworld USA (1961) 
Something Wild (1961) 
Cape Fear (1962) 
Experiment In Terror (1962) 
Private Property (1962) 
Satan in High Heels (1962) 
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) 
Shock Corridor (1962) 
Stark Fear (1962)
Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) 
The Naked Kiss (1964) 
The Pawnbroker (1964)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Lorna (1964)
The Glass Cage (1964) 
Angel's Flight (1965)
Brainstorm (1965) 
Once A Thief (1965) 
The Love Drug (1965)
Flesh and Lace (1965)
Harper (1966) 
Aroused (1966) 
Mr. Buddwing (1966) 
In Cold Blood (1967) 
The Incident (1967)
In The Heat Of The Night (1967) 
The Pick-Up (1968)
Marlowe (1969) 
The Honeymoon Killers (1969) 
 
Darker Than Amber (1970) 
Shaft  (1971)
Across 110th Street (1971) 
The Getaway (1971) 
Get Carter (1971) 
Hickey & Boggs (1972) 
Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974) 
The Nickel Ride (1974) 
Lenny (1974) 
Road Movie (1974) 
The Drowning Pool (1975) 
Farewell My Lovely (1975)
Night Moves (1975) 
Seven Beauties (1975) 
Taxi Driver (1976) 
 
Dressed to Kill (1980) 
Union City (1980) 
Body Heat (1981) 
Thief (1981)
Blade Runner (1982) 
Hammett (1982) 
Blood Simple (1984) 
Paris, Texas (1984) 
Tightrope (1984)
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Blue Velvet (1986) 
Angel Heart (1987) 
Siesta (1987)
Slam Dance (1987)
Kill Me Again (1989)
 
The Grifters (1990) 
The Kill-Off (1990)
The Hot Spot (1990) 
Wild At Heart (1990) 
Impulse (1990)
Dick Tracy (1990) 
Delicatessen (1991) 
A Rage In Harlem (1991)
Delusion (1991) 
Reservoir Dogs (1992) 
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) 
The Public Eye (1992) 
Red Rock West (1993) 
Romeo Is Bleeding (1993)
True Romance (1993) 
The Wrong Man (1993) 
China Moon (1994) 
The Last Seduction (1994) 
Pulp Fiction (1994) 
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Blink (1994)
Se7en (1995) 
Fargo (1996) 
Mulholland Falls (1996) 
Hit Me (1996)
Jackie Brown (1997) 
L.A. Confidential (1997) 
Lost Highway (1997) 
This World, Then the Fireworks (1997) 
Dark City (1998) 
A Simple Plan (1998) 
The Big Lebowski (1998) 
Payback (1999)
Night Train (1999) 
 
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) 
Mulholland Drive (2001) 
Sin City (2005) 
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
The Black Dahlia (2006) 
36 Quai des Orfèvres (2006) 
No Country For Old Men (2007) 
The Lookout (2007)
Dark Country (2009)
The Missing Person (2009)
The Killer Inside Me (2010)
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (2014)
Too Late (2015)
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Go for Sisters (2013, dir. John Sayles)

 

Go for Sisters is a very satisfying story of a mother’s desperate search for her missing son. I enjoyed the film when it was first released, and it was great to see it again on DVD. I recommend John Sayles’s audio commentary on the DVD, too.

 

Bernice Stokes is a parole officer who enlists the help of a parolee, Fontayne Scott, who happens to be assigned to her, because she needs help finding her son, who is suspected of committing a murder. Bernice and Fontayne were once high school friends, but now they have to navigate the implications of their current situations and their renewed acquaintance. Fontayne turns out to be a valuable ally in many ways. She puts Bernice in touch with Freddy Suárez, who used to work on the Los Angeles police force but had to resign because he refused to rat on a fellow officer. The three of them have to learn to work together, even though they have every reason to mistrust one another at the start.

 

I give Go for Sisters 9½ out of 16 on our list of noir characteristics.

 

*****Spoilers*****     *****Spoilers*****     *****Spoilers*****     *****Spoilers*****

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color Maybe ½ point. John Sayles mentions on the DVD commentary that he filmed on location in Mexico because he wanted to take advantage of the more vivid colors one finds there compared to the United States. The desert in both countries is flat, brown, and unforgiving: It accentuates the characters’ desperation.

2. Flashbacks N/A

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, drug smuggling

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate Fate plays a direct role in setting up the story: Bernice and Fontayne were high school friends who haven’t seen each other in twenty years when they meet again at the start of the film. Fontayne just happens to be a parolee assigned to Bernice, which means that Bernice has a lot of power over Fontayne’s future.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Fontayne feels some fear and confusion about her role in Bernice’s plans. Bernice feels fear (maybe even panic at times) and confusion about her missing son.

8. Violence or the threat of violence See number 4 above. Bernice, Fontayne, and Suárez purposely put themselves in danger to find out information about Bernice’s son’s activities before he was kidnapped. In addition, Bernice feels the constant threat of violence directed toward her son: She doesn’t know if she will find him at all, and whether he’ll be dead or alive when she does.

9. Urban and nighttime settings I’m going to count this because heat and sunlight play a large role in building the tension while Bernice, Fontayne, and Suárez search for Bernice’s son.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) It is implied in the film that Rodney fell into his current lifestyle because he suffers from PTSD after serving in the military in the Middle East.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Both Fontayne and Bernice are rather isolated at the start of the film. They work together rather tentatively at first because they haven’t seen each other in so long and need to rebuild trust.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A I suppose one could argue that Bernice takes advantage of Fontayne in her situation as parolee, but Bernice offers to cover for her—and does.

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal N/A

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Fontayne and Suárez already know how to skirt the boundaries of their respective worlds, and they use this knowledge to help Bernice. Bernice learns how to play a part in their worlds because she is searching for her son, and she chooses to ignore the rules of her professional life as a parole officer.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” See number 15. Expertise does triumph, but the characters are sympathetic and they do realize that a lot of what they are doing is illegal.

 

I plan to see another of John Sayles’s movies, Lone Star, next.

Edited by Marianne
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Manhunter (1986)

dir. Michael Mann

 

Investigators have little to go on in identifying or capturing a serial killer who is stalking the south. Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) targets entire families on days with a full moon.

Agent Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) pays former colleague, Will Graham (William Petersen) a visit.

Crawford: How much do you know?

Graham: Not much.

Crawford: The Birmingham one was in the papers over a month ago. The second one in Atlanta was all over TV. Did you ever think about giving me a call?

Graham: No.

Crawford: Why not?

Graham: I quit, remember?

Crawford: If I really didn’t need you to come back, I wouldn’t ask. This guy is on a lunar cycle. I have three weeks and a few days until the next full moon. We have a better chance to get him fast if you help me.

Graham: I’ll think about it.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes.

There are many scenes where the colors are intense and/or muted. Early in the film we see a couple lying in bed, at night, with the ocean visible through a large window. The moonlight shines through the bedroom in a soft blue-grayish tone. Perhaps a touch overdone, but certainly effective.

 

2. Flashbacks N/A

 

3. Unusual narration half only.

While investigating a crime scene by himself, Graham records his findings as he moves around. We get to hear his inner thoughts each time he looks up from the pages of the police report. Why did he leave saliva on the glass door?… Leeds tried to fight… What did the killer do with them after they were dead? This method is used in lieu of having a partner exchanging ideas with him. Creative on the part of the writer because Graham works alone. When viewing home videos of the victims, he talks to himself out loud: It was maddening to touch her with rubber gloves on, wasn’t it?

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

Kidnapping

Murder

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

 

6. The instrument of fate Yes.

Dollarhyde waits for the ideal family to present itself. He pursues them until conditions are perfect before deciding when to execute his plan. Next is reporter Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang) who pretty much secures his fate, when he agrees to disparage the serial killer in a national tabloid newspaper. He does not help his cause when he unethically sneaks into a hospital room and snaps a picture of Will Graham that appears in the front pages the next day. Acts like these tend to catch up with you sooner or later- and it does him.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes.

There are many with angst in this film. Dollarhyde for instance is very self-consciousness of his cleft lip. He also becomes overly jealous when he witnesses an innocent display of kindness directed towards his newly found girlfriend.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Murder

Torture

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Half

Various settings; Captiva, Florida, Birmingham, Atlanta, St. Louis but we never really see them in noir form. We are not shown much of them. We do see plenty of nighttime scenes which captures our theme; my favorite-when Dollarhyde pulls up in front of Reba’s house. The numerous cuts to and from the front door and pick-up truck creates a sense of taking cover.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Yes.

Reba (Joan Allen) is a blind, terrorized and held captive by a broken-hearted psychopath who until recently, she thought of as a friend. How ironic that each are now looking for solace to ease their fears, pain and confusion.

"Where are you? You're scaring me! Stop it! Francis, why are you doing this to me? "

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes.

Detective Graham captured the brilliant but insane murderer, Dr. Lecktor (Brian Cox), many years ago. He now feels compelled to seek his help in capturing the serial killer.

Graham: I want you to help me, Dr. Lecktor.

Lecktor: You want to know how he is choosing them, don’t you?

Graham: I thought you may have some ideas.

Lector: Why should I tell you? … You think you are smarter than me, since you caught me.

Graham: No, I know I’m not smart.

Lecktor: Then how did you catch me?

Graham: Your disadvantages.

Lector: What disadvantages?

Graham: You’re insane.

How smart is Dr. Lecktor? He manipulates a telephone without dial tone nor push buttons and manages to get Graham’s home address.

 

13. Greed N/A

 

14. Betrayal Yes.

Francis Dollarhyde feels betrayed by newly found girlfriend, Reba.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Yes.

Detective Graham utilizes a unique skill that helps him solve this case. He puts himself inside the killer’s mind to better see and think as the monster does: You cut the branches so you could see…When night came, you saw them behind bright window. You watched the shades go down, the lights go out one by one… you climbed down and [entered]. This sort of profiling helps him find the serial killer. It is hard to imagine some other investigator doing the same. “If we find out how he found them, we will find him. There’s selection and design here.”

 

10 of 16 neo-noir characteristic for this crime-thriller neo-noir.

 

Director Michael Mann adapted the screenplay from the Thomas Harris novel “Red Dragon”. He and cinematographer Dante Spinotti would collaborate again in The Last of the Mohicans and Heat.

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John Wick (2014)

Dir. Chad Stahelski

 

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a former hitman grieving the loss of his wife, Helen. Shortly before her death, she had arranged a special delivery to arrive after her burial; a puppy to help cope with his loss. The film follows Wick as he seeks vengeance against those who, after a chance encounter at a gas station, attacked him at his home, stole his classic car, and killed his puppy.

 

***Warning! Spoilers abound!***

 

I hadn’t heard of this film until I saw a trailer for the sequel. Family and friends told me to watch it because 1. I’d enjoy it, and 2. it was right up my “film noir” alley. It did not disappoint. Keanu Reeves was quite impressive particularly with his deadpan humor.

 

As a personal aside, I’ve been learning Russian (I can read Cyrillic) and was super stoked that I could understand some of the language and even criticize the actors’ terrible accents. Of course I don’t speak it perfectly. I have a Spanish accent in Russian, but most Russian speakers tell me that despite this, my pronunciation is quite good.

 

15/15

 

Characteristics borrowed from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color.

Yes. Lots of  black! Often it’s contrasted with either blue lights, red glows or bright, flashing light.

 

2. Flashbacks

Yes on two levels. The entire film is a flashback, and there is another flashback when Wick reflects on his quiet life with Helen.

 

3. Unusual narration

Yes; the film is bookended. The film starts with an injured John Wick crawling to a vacant location and watching a video of his late-wife. We see all the events that lead up to this scene.

 

4. Crime/planning a crime

Wick seeks vengeance against all who are responsible for the attack in his home. Turns out, the person responsible is the son of his former employer; Russian mob boss, Viggo Tarasov. Tarasov hires another hitman (and close associate of Wick), Marcus, to kill Wick as a preventive measure

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale

Yes. Ms. Perkins, the female hitman.

 

6. The instrument of fate

The chance encounter at a gas station, which sets the events in motion.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst).

Yes. Wick is very much the grieving husband. He left his former life to be with Helen, who later dies of an unexplained illness. He often contemplates whether he should return to his former life.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence

Of course; there’s a very high body count.

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings

Yes. The film is set in New York City; it is almost exclusively nighttime.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional)

n/a

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

The idea that love can change a person; that eventually, your past will catch up with you.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

Yes. Wick is emotionally conflicted due to his wife’s death and his current dilemma about returning to his former life; one which he has tried to bury in the past. He suffers depression, trauma and grief. He spends time driving recklessly to help cope. A bit of catharsis achieved upon each kill.

 

13. Greed

Yes. Iosef wants Wick’s Mustang and offers to buy it. When Wick says no, he steals it from him.

 

14. Betrayal

Yes. Marcus is paid 2 million to execute Wick.  Since it’s an open contract, Marcus has others carry out the execution. However, due to his friendship with Wick, Marcus often follows these hitmen and fires a warning shot at Wick (though he is unaware of this contract). Thus, Marcus betrays Viggo. Ms. Perkins also betrays the honor code of not carrying out executions in a place of business (The Continental)

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

Yes. It’s a criminal underworld. They’re all bad guys by definition including John Wick; he was a hitman for the Russian mob. Everyone is guilty of wrongdoing.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

Yes. It is Wick’s expertise that triumphs.

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John Wick (2014)

Dir. Chad Stahelski

 

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a former hitman grieving the loss of his wife, Helen. Shortly before her death, she had arranged a special delivery to arrive after her burial; a puppy to help cope with his loss. The film follows Wick as he seeks vengeance against those who, after a chance encounter at a gas station, attacked him at his home, stole his classic car, and killed his puppy.

 

***Warning! Spoilers abound!***

 

I hadn’t heard of this film until I saw a trailer for the sequel. Family and friends told me to watch it because 1. I’d enjoy it, and 2. it was right up my “film noir” alley. It did not disappoint. Keanu Reeves was quite impressive particularly with his deadpan humor.

 

As a personal aside, I’ve been learning Russian (I can read Cyrillic) and was super stoked that I could understand some of the language and even criticize the actors’ terrible accents. Of course I don’t speak it perfectly. I have a Spanish accent in Russian, but most Russian speakers tell me that despite this, my pronunciation is quite good.

 

15/15

 

Characteristics borrowed from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color.

Yes. Lots of  black! Often it’s contrasted with either blue lights, red glows or bright, flashing light.

 

2. Flashbacks

Yes on two levels. The entire film is a flashback, and there is another flashback when Wick reflects on his quiet life with Helen.

 

3. Unusual narration

Yes; the film is bookended. The film starts with an injured John Wick crawling to a vacant location and watching a video of his late-wife. We see all the events that lead up to this scene.

 

4. Crime/planning a crime

Wick seeks vengeance against all who are responsible for the attack in his home. Turns out, the person responsible is the son of his former employer; Russian mob boss, Viggo Tarasov. Tarasov hires another hitman (and close associate of Wick), Marcus, to kill Wick as a preventive measure

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale

Yes. Ms. Perkins, the female hitman.

 

6. The instrument of fate

The chance encounter at a gas station, which sets the events in motion.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst).

Yes. Wick is very much the grieving husband. He left his former life to be with Helen, who later dies of an unexplained illness. He often contemplates whether he should return to his former life.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence

Of course; there’s a very high body count.

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings

Yes. The film is set in New York City; it is almost exclusively nighttime.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional)

n/a

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

The idea that love can change a person; that eventually, your past will catch up with you.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

Yes. Wick is emotionally conflicted due to his wife’s death and his current dilemma about returning to his former life; one which he has tried to bury in the past. He suffers depression, trauma and grief. He spends time driving recklessly to help cope. A bit of catharsis achieved upon each kill.

 

13. Greed

Yes. Iosef wants Wick’s Mustang and offers to buy it. When Wick says no, he steals it from him.

 

14. Betrayal

Yes. Marcus is paid 2 million to execute Wick.  Since it’s an open contract, Marcus has others carry out the execution. However, due to his friendship with Wick, Marcus often follows these hitmen and fires a warning shot at Wick (though he is unaware of this contract). Thus, Marcus betrays Viggo. Ms. Perkins also betrays the honor code of not carrying out executions in a place of business (The Continental)

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

Yes. It’s a criminal underworld. They’re all bad guys by definition including John Wick; he was a hitman for the Russian mob. Everyone is guilty of wrongdoing.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

Yes. It is Wick’s expertise that triumphs.

 

Wow.

 

I have seen commercials for John Wick, but somehow I didn't get a noir vibe. Your review (not read straight through so that I wouldn't read the spoilers) has changed my mind!

 

Just a quick note: Do you mean 15/16? Still an impressive score (I do believe one of the highest yet), but I see you don't note anything for post-any-war themes and just want to make sure. (It was the one list item I could read from beginning to end without having anything given away!)

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Wow.

 

I have seen commercials for John Wick, but somehow I didn't get a noir vibe. Your review (not read straight through so that I wouldn't read the spoilers) has changed my mind!

 

Just a quick note: Do you mean 15/16? Still an impressive score (I do believe one of the highest yet), but I see you don't note anything for post-any-war themes and just want to make sure. (It was the one list item I could read from beginning to end without having anything given away!)

 

Because the postwar theme is considered optional, I did not count it in my final tally.  

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  • 3 weeks later...

Jerichow (2008, dir. Christian Petzold)

 

Jerichow is loosely based on The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain, which puts this film automatically in the neo-noir category. Thomas is veteran casting about for purpose in his life. Ali hires him after a chance meeting, and then introduces Thomas to his wife Laura. Thomas and Laura start an affair, with tragic consequences.

 

I liked this film version much more than I thought I would. It changes the plot of Cain’s novel in very satisfying ways, although it is obviously based on Cain’s novel. I found it much more believable than the 1946 film version starring John Garfield and Lana Turner. The writer updated the story while managing to stay true to the themes and to the characters themselves. I give it 10 out of 16 on our list of characteristics.

 

*****Spoilers*****

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) N/A

2. Flashbacks N/A

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murder, petty theft, domestic violence

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Laura is a femme fatale as far as Thomas is concerned, but it’s unclear if she has betrayed her husband with anyone else.

6. The instrument of fate Ali and Thomas meet by chance, and their relationship starts right away with lies and deceit. To mention any other instances would be giving away plot details.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Fear about Ali’s potential for violence is very real for Laura. Thomas is under pressure to find work after all his money is stolen. His mother has died before the film starts, and he is alone in the world.

8. Violence or the threat of violence The film starts with Thomas being questioned by two men, one of whom he owes money to. The scene could go either way: It could end in violence or not, and it sets the tone for the rest of the film. It also shows Thomas’s capacity for deceit.

9. Urban and nighttime settings N/A

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Thomas was a soldier fighting in Afghanistan, and his military expertise comes in handy later in the film. He was dishonorably discharged, another mark on his character.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness See number 7 above. Many of the characters are living on the edge of society for various reasons: immigration, prison sentence, military service ending dishonorably.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

13. Greed Greed plays a role indirectly. Many characters are motivated by money, but many of them are also desperate.

14. Betrayal Betrayal is a major theme of Cain’s novel, and it is a major theme of Jerichow.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) None of the characters are either all good or all bad. But many of them would do almost anything to get ahead or to get what they want.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

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  • 4 weeks later...

The Morning After (1986, dir. Sidney Lumet)

 

I have seen The Morning After several times on television, and it was great to see it, uninterrupted and complete, on DVD. Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges are fantastic in their respective roles. But I have to admit that it was very hard for me, even though the story is compelling and the actors are fantastic, to forget that I was watching Jeff Bridges and Jane Fonda. I’m not going to count that as a liability for the film, however; I can still recommend The Morning After wholeheartedly.

 

And it was great to see a neo-noir where the main character is a woman doing most of the things that male leads in most neo-noirs do. She’s trying to clear her name after finding herself in dire circumstances—without a gun. I guess the one drawback is that the male lead has the gun, but even he is limited in its use. You’ll see what I mean when you see the film.

 

Alex Sternbergen, an actress whose stage name is Viveca Van Loren, is an alcoholic who drinks so much that she often blacks out and can’t remember what happened while she is drunk. One morning, at the start of the film, in fact, she wakes up and finds a bloody corpse lying beside her. She has to figure out how she knows the corpse and what happened the previous evening.

 

I can give The Morning After 12 out of 16 on our list of neo-noir characteristics. I tried very hard not to give anything away in this write-up of the film because the element of surprise is particularly important to the plot, but there still might be some spoilers below.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color  Brilliant colors are used in interesting ways, especially at the start of the film and especially during the credits, to highlight Alex’s loneliness and her being alone in a desperate situation. Sidney Lumet talks about the colors in the Los Angeles cityscape in the DVD commentary for the film.

2. Flashbacks N/A

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) This film is all about murder, one murder in particular. Someone is planning and plotting—viewers and Alex have to figure out who is doing the planning and the plotting.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale I’m going to argue that one of the characters is an homme fatale, but to say which one would give away important plot details. Suffice to say that one character trusts another character implicitly, which sets up that trusting character for manipulation.

6. The instrument of fate Alex Sternbergen is blackout drinker who just so happens to wake up one morning with a bloody corpse in bed beside her. And that’s just the opening of the film. See also number 11.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; anything that contributes to angst) See number 6 and number 11. From the film’s opening, Alex is alone wondering what the heck happened. She is consumed with fear, self-doubt, and confusion. During the opening credits, she walks past a wall with the following words of graffiti on it: YOU ARE ALONE. (They are easy to miss, although this description makes it sound like they are obvious to viewers.)

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes. Alex wakes up with a bloody corpse, and that sets the tone and the rest of the plot in motion.

9. Urban and nighttime settings The film takes place in Los Angeles.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Alex is alone in her predicament, more alone than she even imagines. She happens to find Turner Kendall, who just happens to be able to help her. Otherwise, she is almost completely alone.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Alex suffers from blackouts when she drinks, which another character uses to manipulate her and the situation.

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal Most definitely.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) The two lead characters are flawed in their own ways. If they had been played by other, less well known actors, maybe this would be a bigger feature of the film. But I was aware all the time that I was watching Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Expertise does triumph, and so does good. But it’s unclear who will be held responsible for the murder that opens the film.

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The Lookout (2007)

dir. Scott Frank

 

Four years ago Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was in a fatal car accident which caused a brain injury and left him suffering from amnesia. Today he depends on his friend Lewis (Jeff Daniels) and a notepad to remind him of the daily basic requirements. This film examines how he adapts after the accident; his reluctance to get involved in a bank heist, courage to avenge the death of a friend and bravery to save the life of another. The film meets 12 of 16 characteristics on our neo-noir template.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes

The planning for the heist (setup and execution) is filmed in darker tones, as if denoting secrecy, taking cover and wrong doing. The clash at the end is filmed with snow as the backdrop, alluding to vulnerability and exposure; an effective contrast of tones and color; mood and emotions.

 

2. Flashbacks Half

The flashbacks never tell a story, they are used mainly to relive moments that Chris goes over in his mind.

 

3. Unusual narration Yes

Chris’s narration is mostly present tense: "I wake up. Turn off the alarm. I look outside so that I know what to wear." It’s actually the vocalization of a writing assignment given at a Life Skills Center.

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes

Bank heist planning

Conspiracy

Felony murder

Kidnapping

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Yes

In order to lure Chris closer to Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) and his den of thieves, Luvlee (Isla Fisher) seduces him in typical femme fatale fashion.

 

6. The instrument of fate Yes

As luck would have it, Chris escapes the chaos at the bank by inadvertently driving away with the loot, further implicating him in the heist. This fateful incident also has dramatic effect on the outcome.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes

Chris’s angst is a result of trauma he suffers after a fatal car accident. He is dependent on written notes to help him go through morning routines, "Take a shower…with soap. Then shave. Get dressed. Take meds… Sometimes I cry for no reason…I don’t read the paper. It confuses me, which makes me mad."

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes

Murder

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Half

The story takes place in Kansas City but the primary setting is a small time bank and a farm in the country. Most of the “troubles” occur at nighttime.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Yes

Shortly after having a discussion with Lewis,* it becomes apparent that Luvlee has taken responsibility for her actions in luring Chris into a dangerous situation. We see her get in a taxi cab and drive away never to be seen or heard of again.

Lewis is blind, yet very perceptive, "Luvlee I presume. I recognize the perfume." Chris has trouble remembering, yet he’s intuitive, "All I can do is…try to forgive myself…then maybe others will forgive me too." Together they complement each other and are less alienated in a cynical world.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes

Chris suffers from amnesia.

"I can’t remember any of it…I remember right before [the accident] right after it."

 

13. Greed Yes

As with most bank heist noir, greed is a motivating factor.

"Whoever has the money, has the power."

 

14. Betrayal Yes

Gary Spargo gains Chris’s trust with his charm and smooth-talk. Later, he coerces Chris into criminal activity.

"Chris, I will totally understand if you feel betrayed, but I need your help."

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

* Existential question

Lewis tells Luvlee how he became blind and concludes, "It probably could have been avoided if I had just stopped and bothered to ask a simple question: What am I doing here?"

 

Lewis: something tells me that you really don’t believe you’re going to be invited to the next Pratt Thanksgiving.

Luvlee: I could be.

Lewis: Sometimes I wake up and think I can see until I walk into a door. The Luvlee Lemons of this world do not end up with Chris Pratt… What are you doing here?

A short while later. Lewis tells Luvlee, "So tonight, in the dark, I’m going to help you out and ask it again. What are you doing here?"

 

The script and cast present memorable characters:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick, Inception), as Chris Pratt is perfect;

Jeff Daniels (The Squid and the Whale, Pleasantville), as Lewis is convincing;

Matthew Goode (Dancing on the Edge, The Good Wife) as Gary Spargo is believable; and

Isla Fisher (The Great Gatsby, Nocturnal Animals) as Luvlee is realistic.

 

The Lookout is a well made crime-thriller, neo-noir.

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