|Clockwise from top, Philip Baker Hall, Michael Madsen, Kim Dickens, and Alec Baldwin|
My rule: The best thing about noir as a genre is that it can be bent a thousand ways from Sunday. I've said that once and I'll continue.
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?
Just as in parts one and two, I'm going to recommend four more neo-noirs that some of you may have missed the first time around.
Zero Effect (1998)
The gist: Jake Kasdan's feature-film debut centers on Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) and Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman), with the latter being a damn near genius when it comes to the art of sleuthing. Their newest case comesin the form of finding a shady tycoon's missing keys. But Zero never counted on being bitten by the love bug in the form of unlikely vamp Kim Dickens.
Why I loved it: If this isn't a modern take on Sherlock Holmes I don't know what is. Like most, I was leery upon seeing the often-predictable Stiller in this - but he delivers as the metrosexual Watson-type. And Pullman? Otherwise a fly-under-the-radar thesp, he owned the movie as the awkward detective. And stunning Kim Dickens? Her femme fatale is a tad unconventional but more than effective. Pretty much hard to find these days (usually it's on cable), the video above has the film in its entirety.
Heaven's Prisoners (1996)
The gist: Based on the crime novels of James Lee Burke, former New Orleans cop Dave Robicheaux (Alec Baldwin) returns to the grit of the French Quarter when he stumbles upon a suspicious plane crash and saves the life of a young girl. Caught between rampaging federal agents and a drug-running former friend (Eric Roberts), the twists and turns come fast and furious.
Why I loved it: Roughly a decade before he scooped up scores of Emmys on NBC's "30 Rock," Baldwin had a minor run as brooding leading man. Lord, one can only imagine what he could've done in the late 40s-early 50s. Eric Roberts is pure fun (even with the scenery-shewing) as the baddie who used to know Baldwin.
Kill Me Again (1989)
The gist: Set within the steamy Nevada desert as well as casino towns Reno and Las Vegas, this feature debut of neo-noir stylist John Dahl ("Red Rock West," "The Last Seduction"), centers on Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, a vamp who tries to break free from her mob connections by faking her own death. The patsy in all this is private eye Jack Andrews (Val Kilmer), who quickly gets spun into her web of woe and seduction.
Why I loved it: While Whalley-Kilmer plays the femme fatale for all it's worth, a pre-'Reservoir Dogs' Michael Madsen steals the show as her psychotic boyfriend on her trail. Kilmer may have been slightly miscast as the modern gumshoe, but Whalley-Kilmer, Madsen and Dahl's steamy neo noir direction more than make up for it.
Hard Eight (1996)
The gist: Visionary director Paul Thomas Anderson's first film chronicles the relationship of John (John C. Reilly) and professional card sharp and gambler Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), who takes John under his wing after showing him how to exploit the casinos' perks. Flash-forward a few years and the duo enjoy life as successful gamblers. All is grand until John falls for a cocktail waitress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and gets mixed up with a shady stranger (Samuel L. Jackson).
Why I loved it: This simple little film delivers in spades and Baker Hall owns the movie as the fatherly gambler. The real star, however, is the gritty city of Reno itself which bleeds onto the screen.