By Meaghan Walsh Gerard
Of all the styles in film history, film noir is one of the most far-reaching and hard to pin down. A few of the things critics and historians mostly agree on are:
Social degeneration which forces those who still believe in “the good” to grapple with their own alienation.
A tragic protagonist who must delve into the dark side to bring light back to the world – to the detriment of his own happiness.
Low-key lighting, and droll dialogue rife with double-entendre and life philosophies.
A gangster/criminal/seedy character (with a troubled past, perhaps even sympathetic) who corrupts a dark, claustrophobic cityscape.
A femme fatale character, with varying degrees of self-reliance and/or sexual magnetism.
The turn of the 21st century seems to have inspired a wave of neo-noirs. There were a few in the late 1990s that did well and likely kicked off the genre’s revival. L.A. Confidential (1997) was a stylish neo-noir that garnered numerous Oscars, as did The Usual Suspects (1995). Smart dialogue, dark themes and a sense of doom pervade these great neo-noirs of the early 2000s.
A sequel to Batman Begins, this film is the height of the trilogy and truly embraces the noir format. A crime-ridden cityscape of Gotham serves as the Asphalt Jungle playground for the Joker. He trades barbs with those who try to catch him and lures Batman away from subtle vigilantism to a public showdown. It’s a masterful neo-noir.
With an all-star cast, and one of the funniest performances from Robert Downey, Jr., Kiss Kiss Bang Bang reads like a humorous homage to crime noirs of the 1940s. A ridiculous situation gets even sillier as the characters try to extricate themselves from a petty theft. The dialogue is quick and the action never stops.
Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) doesn’t have the ability to create short-term memories, yet he is determined to solve the mystery of his wife’s murder. He tattoos clues on himself, takes Polaroids, and leaves notes to his future self that may help him find the killer. In true noir fashion, the hero is given in an impossible, “against-all-odds” task. He is presented as someone who will stand for what’s right, even if it will make no difference.
Noirs often explore the grey areas of good and evil. It forces the audience to consider the lesser of two evils or whether a bad guy deserves what’s coming to him. In Tom Hanks’ only anti-hero role, he plays a Chicago gangster out to avenge the murder of his wife and child. But as a hitman himself, he’s hardly the most sympathetic characters. It’s almost always dark and raining as the doomed characters seek to balance the scales of injustice.
It’s difficult to describe this mesmerizing, unusual, mysterious movie. A taxidermist in Buenos Aires, Esteban (Ricardo Darin) has always fantasized about the perfect heist. When a hunting trip goes sideways, he decides the time is right for his flawless crime. It’s a slow burn but well worth it. In this neo-noir, it is man against nature – his own and Mother Nature.
Meaghan Walsh Gerard has been writing about films (especially classic ones) and books (especially gothic ones) for more than ten years on her site. She is obsessed with the art of storytelling and holds a master’s degree in cinema studies. Meaghan has been a DVD Netflix member since 2003. Follow Meaghan at mwgerard.com, on Twitter @mwgerard, or Facebook and Instagram.