|Clockwise from upper left, Denzel Washington, Michael Shannon, Billy Bob Thornton and Elliot Gould|
The best thing about noir as a genre is that it can be bent a thousand ways from Sunday.
While most classic noir films we've come to love have stemmed from the 40s and 50s (too many to name), plenty of neo noirs have been delivered in the modern day from director Roman Polanski's take of the private eye film in "Chinatown" to the burnt-neon world of Ridley Scott's sci-fi "Blade Runner." Those are givens. But what about the flicks off the beaten path? I'm going to recommend four neo-noirs that some of you may have missed the first time around.
THE LONG GOODBYE (1973)
The gist: Of all directors, Robert Altman takes on Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled gumshoe Phillip Marlowe in an update of "The Long Goodbye" with Elliot Gould stepping into the iconic role as he bops around Los Angeles in the early 70s. Yes, it's odd. Between Altman (who I felt couldn't tackle Chandler), and Gould (who I felt was woefully miscast), I had reservations from the first frame. Was I wrong. In a big way.
Why I loved it: Gould gives us such a quirky, unconventional muttering-to-himself Marlowe that he makes you like him. He's not a tough guy which is oddly refreshing in any noir. What's more, Sterling Hayden, a vet himself of vintage noir films, shows up as a grizzled Hemingway-eque scribe. And finally, "The Long Goodbye" boasts one of the catchiest theme songs I've heard in a while that you'll want to own it. Easily worth a watch. (Netflix streaming)
THE MISSING PERSON (2009)
The gist: Boozy private-eye John Rosow (Michael Shannon) is hired to shadow a mysterious man leaving on a train from Chicago bound for Los Angeles and soon finds out that he's not who everyone thinks he is. As a result, it's not long before the detective channels his own inner demons by discovering he and the man he's looking for are very much alike. If there was a quintessential post 911 noir, this would be it.
Why I loved it: Two words - Michael Shannon. Anyone who is a fan of 'Boardwalk Empire' knows that the Oscar-nominated Shannon ('Revolutionary Road') is a fine thespian and his ballsy interpretation of the typical gumshoe is first rate. (Netflix streaming)
THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE (2001)
The gist: This Joel Coen and Ethan Coen film casts Billy Bob Thornton as sad sack California barber Ed Crane. When his wife cheats on him (Frances McDormand), he embarks on a devious blackmail scheme that eventually explodes in his face. James Gandolfini co-stars.
Why I loved it: This is perhaps the most typical noir of these neo examples. In fact, this black-and-white flick could easily have been released in 1949 and no one would be able to tell. I've said it before and I'll say it again: No one does retro films better than the Coens. Their visual aesthetic and attention to detail make each frame a virtual painting. Add in moody noir elements, and you have a damn near classic.
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1995)
The gist: Based on the character created by writer Walter Mosley, the film is set in Los Angeles circa 1948. A stranger asks war veteran (and self-taught private dick) "Easy" Rawlins (Denzel Washington) to help find a missing woman and he quickly gets in over his head becoming entangled in a murder mystery.
Why I loved it: Denzel ooooooozes charisma in this. So much so, that one wishes there were more films in the Easy Rawlins cannon. Good news, however. According to Deadline ad CNN, NBC is developing a project called "Easy Rawlins," based on Mosley's best-selling series. Quick... someone call Idris Elba. Let's hope the Peacock Network doesn't screw it up in development like they did with 'The Playboy Club' and 'Prime Suspect.'