Wednesday, May 9, 2012


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 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 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 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.


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.'


  1. I've seen them all, except The Missing Person.

    1. paul... You're going to love it. Shannon really really delivers.

  2. I just caught the little known and mostly forgotten neo-noir flick 1998's Twilight last evening. Sarandon, Newman, Hackman and Jim Garner. Pretty good flick. Nope not a friggin' vampire anywhere in it.

    1. ... and famous for a nekkid Reese Witherspoon ;)

  3. I never understood why THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE never got the love. I don't much like Thornton, but he fit the part and it all worked so well. Maybe once folks get over Lebowskimania, they'll rediscover this one too.

    1. HA! Lebowskimania ... I'm afraid I buy into the whole Lebowski thing as well. But yeah, THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE ... what a great film...

  4. Loved the Chandler novel and the movie version of The Long Goodbye. Elliot Gould was great in the flick, and my only complaint (without revealing any particulars) is that Hollywood, as always, just had to make up their own ending when the book's ending was already perfect. For sh*ts and giggles, here's my spoiler-free review of the novel, if interested:

    I also loved The Man Who Wasn't There, though it's been ages since I last watched it.

    Looking forward to checking out the other two. Good post, thanks Anthony.

    1. Thanks for the link... Ad enjoy those movies. Lemme know what you think.

  5. Billy Bob and the Coen brothers = a match made in noir heaven. They need to work together more. I love Billy Bob's style - his pace is amazing. Rare are those who take comfort in silence as he does. He's simply brilliant. And the Coen's? I don't think I've ever seen anything they did I didn't like.

    Great list, I'll have to look into some of these...


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