Rockstar Recommends: A Film Noir Round Up Part Two – The Neo Noirs
L.A. Noire is now on shelves across the world and hopefully many of you reading this are in the midst of getting deep into the dark and dangerous crime-riddled world of 1947 Los Angeles as recreated in the game.
In honor of the game’s release, and as promised in our previous Noir roundup of genre classics that are paid homage with the in-game “Hollywoodland” Achievement/Trophy, this week we present a special selection of a few of the ‘Neo-Noir’ films that we feel are particular standouts.
All are films created well after the original Film Noir heyday of the 1940’s and 50’s which still faithfully carry on the signature elements of the genre into more modern settings and scenarios. Some of these may be personal favorites of your own that you never knew derived from the DNA of Chandler, Hammett and Cain...
Blood Simple (1984, Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
“Blood Simple” is the widely acclaimed debut of directors Joel & Ethan Coen – and the first of many Noir-inspired films they’d go on to create including most explicitly “The Man Who Wasn’t There”, as well as “Barton Fink”, and most popular of all the modern comedy-noir cult-classic “The Big Lebowski”. Starring Dan Hedaya (the Cheers sitcom actor, in a quite edgy departure at the time), the excellent American character actor M. Emmett Walsh, and Frances McDormand (who’d become one of the Coen’s go-to actress collaborators) - “Blood Simple” derives its title directly via a quote from the writing of Dashiell Hammett and is truly textbook Noir. While set in then-present-day 1984 rural Texas, it has all the quintessential trappings of the genre: betrayal, murder, double crossings, one dark plot twist after another, and an overall pervasive feeling of dread that weighs heavily throughout – not to mention a modern color take on Noir’s signature stark and shadowy cinematography (lensed by future director Barry Sonnenfeld). Blood Simple's tale of a cuckolded bar owner who takes desperate measures to exact revenge sets into motion a treacherous turn of events in the great tradition of Film Noir storytelling established by stories like “The Big Sleep” and “Double Indemnity”.
Red Rock West (1992, Dir. John Dahl)
An early 90s gem, tautly directed by John Dahl – a director who’s shown Noir inspiration throughout his career in other films like “The Last Seduction” and “Kill Me Again”. Drifter Michael Williams meanders into a sleepy Wyoming town looking for work, and is mistaken by bar-owner Wayne for a hit man he’d hired to kill his wife, Suzanne. The desperate Michael doesn’t correct Wayne’s mistake, takes the money and goes to see the wife to warn her, which embroils him in a spiral of danger once the real hit man shows up. The casting couldn’t have been more perfect for the time, with actors tailor made for their parts: the brooding Nicholas Cage still relatively early on in his career, the late J.T. Walsh - best known for playing villains, such as in the underappreciated 90s thriller “Breakdown”, Lara Flynn Boyle who at the time was hot off her role in David Lynch’s popular, creepy, Noiresque TV series “Twin Peaks”, and of course the late, great Dennis Hopper as the real hired killer, oozing with bad-guy charm. Bearing some similarities to the aforementioned “Blood Simple”, being a Noir film set as a modern rural crime thriller, “Red Rock West” became a critical favorite in the early 90s borne out of the art house scene and today is considered one of the best in the genre.
Blade Runner (1982, Dir. Ridley Scott)
A cornerstone of science-fiction, regarded as a modern holy grail by enthusiasts – many aren’t aware that the storyline and devices of “Blade Runner” are really rooted firmly in the conventions of Film Noir. Just as the year prior’s “Outland” transposed a classic western narrative (“High Noon” specifically) into a futuristic / outer space environment, “Blade Runner” imparted Noir storytelling into the 80s wave of science fiction mania (due in no small part to Ridley Scott’s previous blockbuster “Alien” and Harrison Ford’s star-making turn as Han Solo of the Star Wars films). Set in Los Angeles, oh about 8 years from now, “Blade Runner” tells of a harried private eye chasing criminals (and deadly replicants) throughout the city streets as he unravels a dangerous plot. If you’ve never seen it…
Blue Velvet (1986, Dir. David Lynch)
Two of filmmaker David Lynch’s chief influences throughout his career have been the dark uncertainty of Film Noir – and the inherent weirdness of Southern California. While “Blue Velvet” takes place in a vaguely northwestern town, the disturbing concept of depravity and death lurking below a sunny, cheerful façade is really the focal point of the picture. An unmistakably Noir story, with an innocent young man chasing a MacGuffin that leads him to a forlorn, sexually abused and emotionally distraught Isabella Rossellini – and Dennis Hopper in a role that is among his most famous, as the huffing sociopath Frank Booth. One of the few real auteurs with longevity in Hollywood history, we’d consider “Blue Velvet” to really be Lynch’s master work.
The Usual Suspects (1995, Dir. Bryan Singer)
One of the best films of the 90s decade is a Noir detective thriller through and through – where you’re never sure who’s telling the truth and nothing is as it seems. Named after Claude Rains’ famous line towards the end of “Casablanca”, “The Usual Suspects” follows a pair of detectives (mob character actor Chazz Palmintieri and Spike Lee favorite Giancarlo Esposito) as they try and track down the mysterious criminal mastermind Keyser Sose, interrogating a lineup of crooks, pursuing dizzying leads, and ultimately discovering one of the greatest and most unpredictable conclusions in cinema.
L.A. Confidential (1997, Dir. Curtis Hanson)
Last, but not least, comes a movie that may not necessarily be ‘neo-noir’ in that it is set in the original Film Noir period of the 40s and 50s, but is certainly one of the all-time greats and definitely one to watch (or read the original novel) as a celluloid companion to the L.A. Noire experience. Adapted from the third book in modern crime fiction master James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet series, “L.A. Confidential” stands alongside Polanski’s 1974 “Chinatown” as the two best modern productions of a period Noir. With a beautifully photographed lush Los Angeles, a tense detective story, excellent production design and a standout cast that includes Guy Pierce (who also starred in the 2000 Noir mystery “Memento”), Kim Basinger as a Veronica Lake lookalike, Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey (“The Usual Suspects”) and Russell Crowe. You can also look for a few historical figures from Los Angeles of the day that both appear in this film and in L.A. Noire, including Johnny Stompanato and LAPD forensics expert Ray Pinker.
Rockstar Recommends: A Film Noir Round Up – Part One