Part 5

Film Noir
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Examples

The 90s:

  • Stephen Frears' superb neo-noir The Grifters (1990) featured three lowlife con artists (John Cusack, his estranged mother Anjelica Huston, and his new sexy girlfriend Annette Bening)
  • another Coen Brothers masterpiece, Miller's Crossing (1990), was an intricate rehash of Dashiell Hammett's crime novel Red Harvest and with many similarities to The Glass Key, featured Albert Finney as an Irish crime boss in the Prohibition era and Gabriel Byrne as his trusted boozing lieutenant and political fixer; the film paid homage to hard-boiled 40s gangster films
  • and also the Coen's Barton Fink (1991), similar in plot to Sunset Boulevard (1950), told about an intellectual Jewish Broadway playwright (John Turturro) with acute writer's block after he sold out and came to Hollywood - a deal literally with Mephistopheles
  • Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again (1991), a complicated and puzzling Alfred Hitchcock-like, karmic tale with two parallel stories - the murder of a European composer's wife in 1940s Hollywood, and a modern-day private eye's search for clues to murder (including the use of hypnosis on his amnesia-suffering client)
  • Abel Ferrara's gritty and hardcore NC-17 rated Bad Lieutenant (1992), with a stunning and courageous performance by Harvey Keitel as a corrupt, addicted, and sleazy NYC police detective
  • Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct (1992), with Sharon Stone as ice-pick murderess suspect and bi-sexual femme fatale Catherine Trammell, tempting to ensnared SF cop Det. Nick Curran (Michael Douglas)
  • David Mamet's-penned Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), a dark modern film noir about corrupt real-estate salesmen
  • Carl Franklin's low-budget neo-noir One False Move (1992), his directorial debut film, told about a group of coke-addicted, drug-dealing criminal killers (Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Beach, and Cynda Williams) who fled LA for Arkansas, where they were confronted by local Star City sheriff "Hurricane" Dixon (Bill Paxton) and two LA cops
  • Howard Franklin's The Public Eye (1992) was set in a 40s NYC; it was a modern film noir character study and crime thriller told from the perspective of Joe Pesci's character - Leon "The Great Bernzini" Bernstein
  • writer/director Quentin Tarantino's feature film debut, the brutal but dark comic-noir film Reservoir Dogs (1992) told about the aftermath of a botched diamond heist among a color-coded group of Los Angeles criminals, including the infamous ear-slicing scene
  • John Dahl's quirky and suspenseful modern-day film noir Red Rock West (1993) starred Nicolas Cage as Michael Williams caught in a twisting plot; as a drifter with a bum leg, he wandered into rural Red Rock, Wyoming where he was mistaken for a hit man - "Lyle from Dallas"- and became embroiled in a wife-killing scheme involving Lara Flynn Boyle (as Suzanne Brown/Ann McCord) - and then the real 'Lyle from Dallas' showed up (Dennis Hopper)
  • The Last Seduction - 1993also John Dahl's dark, erotic follow-up feminist noir thriller The Last Seduction (1994) starred Linda Florentino in a quintessential film noir role as amoral, evil femme fatale Bridget Gregory, a beautiful, sexy, brazen, and deadly seductress who victimized dumb, small-town guy Mike (Peter Berg), while on the lam with $700,000 of drug money
  • the contemporary, twisting neo-noir China Moon (1994) starred Ed Harris as a straight Florida cop, femme fatale Madeleine Stowe as his unhappily-married, irresistible love interest, and Benicio del Toro as a rookie cop
  • Oliver Stone's ultra-violent and trippy Natural Born Killers (1994) was assailed for its sensationalistic look at two psychopathic serial murderers Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis), a couple-on-the-run who fled down Route 666, while glorified by the media as folk heroes, especially by manipulative reporter Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.)
  • writer/director Quentin Tarantino's modern-day classic film and black noirish comedy Pulp Fiction (1994) was composed of a trio of interwoven storylines in LA (including a twist dance contest and heroin overdose) and twelve major characters (including hitmen, mobsters, a downtrodden boxer, etc.)
  • Michael Mann's epic crime film Heat (1995) famously brought together, in their first screen appearance, Robert De Niro (as gang boss Neil McCauley) and Al Pacino (as LA detective Vincent Hanna) on different sides of the law
  • director David Fincher's crime drama Se7en (1995) was about seven murders staged and committed by pathological and diabolical serial killer John Doe (an unbilled Kevin Spacey), inspired by the legendary Seven Deadly Sins (Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Envy, and Wrath); soon-to-retire, weary veteran Det. Lt. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and his headstrong replacement partner, young reckless rookie David Mills (Brad Pitt), pursued the killer through a series of gruesome, dark scenes
  • Steven Soderbergh's stylized noirish thriller The Underneath (1995) was a loose derivative of the film noir thriller Criss Cross (1949); it starred Peter Gallagher (in a dual role) as a man whose lust for his angry and vengeful femme fatale ex-wife (Alison Elliott) led to his downfall
  • Bryan Singer's convoluted heist thriller The Usual Suspects (1995) was a cleverly-written, complex tale (with an Oscar-winning screenplay) and featured a Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winning performance by Kevin Spacey as a club-footed con man Roger "Verbal" Kint serving as an informant for cops about a dockside shootout - and the unseen, non-existent mobster Keyser Soze ("And like that, he's gone")
  • the Wachowski's debut film Bound (1996), one of the first mainstream films to include a feminist lesbian relationship and love story, teamed ex-con butch neighbor Corky (Gina Gershon) with sexy mob moll Violet (Jennifer Tilley) in a plot to steal $2 million from her money-laundering boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano)
  • the Coen Brothers' noirish Fargo (1996) was a murder tale regarding frustrated, defeated, and broke Twin Cities car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William Macy) who hired two inept thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife for a ransom - but it ended in three deaths, and an investigation by largely-pregnant, clever, and doggedly-determined police chief Marge Gunderson (Oscar-winning Frances McDormand)
  • Curtis Hanson's recreated early-50s Hollywood, Techni-colored, retro-noir crime drama of scandalous sex and corruption, L.A. Confidential (1997), had an Oscar-winning screenplay, and featured three antagonistic police detectives (Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, and Kevin Spacey) in a corrupt LAPD investigating a mass slaying at a diner; Kim Basinger had a Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winning role as a Veronica-Lake look-alike femme fatale/prostitute; this was a screen adaptation from several of James Ellroy's crime novels
  • the Coen Brothers' clever comic-noir The Big Lebowski (1998) told a twisted story of complications that arose for a laid-back, paunchy, pot-smoking, obsessed-bowler named "Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) after he was mistaken for multi-millionaire Lebowski (David Huddleston); he became ineptly involved in kidnapping, embezzlement, and extortion
  • director Alex Proyas' visually-stunning, labyrinthine and visionary sci-fi noir Dark City (1998) was about the pursuit of John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), a murder suspect with memory problems; he was tracked into a nightmarish, retro 40s-style futuristic world by the police and a group of individuals known as Strangers - who were actually malevolent alien beings living underground who wore black coats and fedoras; they were in fact a dying race of fiendish alien parasites who had abandoned their own world to seek a cure for their own mortality; eventually, the 'dark city' was revealed to be an experiment set up by the endangered aliens to determine the nature of the human soul by manipulating and transplanting people's memories each night
  • writer/director Robert Benton's quirky neo-noir Twilight (1998) starred 73 year-old Paul Newman as aging, alcoholic, down-and-out LA private eye Harry Ross, completing one last job for cancer-stricken Hollywood movie star Jack Ames (Gene Hackman) and his sexy and sultry femme fatale wife Catherine (Susan Sarandon), involving murder, old secrets, and blackmail

The 2000s:

  • in John Frankenheimer's Reindeer Games (2000), ex-con Rudy Duncan (Ben Affleck), who impersonated his dead cellmate's identity for the man's femme fatale pen-pal-girlfriend Ashley Mercer (Charlize Theron), became ensnared in her brother's (Gary Sinise) plot to rob a Michigan casino on Christmas Eve
  • writer/director Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000) was a confounding, mind-bending tale told in backward-jumping reverse; it featured a hero named Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) without short-term memory who was investigating the rape-murder of his wife (Jorja Fox), with corrupt cop "Teddy" (Joe Pantoliano) assisting and Carrie Ann Moss as potential femme fatale Natalie
  • the Coen Brothers' semi-parody of film noir The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), with impressive b/w cinematography from Roger Deakins, starred Billy Bob Thornton as a deadpanning, unassuming cuckolded barber Ed Crane, involved in a loveless marriage to scheming, unfaithful wife Doris (Francis McDormand)
  • Mulholland Dr. - 2001David Lynch's complex and unconventional Mulholland Dr. (2001) had two femme fatales, each with two personas: the light Betty Elms/Diane (Naomi Watts) and dark, enigmatic Rita/Camilla (Laura Elena Harring), both caught in a nightmarish, Los Angeles web of corruption and death after opening Pandora's Box
  • Sean Penn's mystery thriller The Pledge (2001) told how on-the-verge-of-retiring Reno police officer Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) pledged to a brutally murdered 8 year-old victim's mother (Patricia Clarkson) that he would find the killer; although mentally-handicapped, long-haired Native-American (Benicio del Toro) was accused of the crime, the increasingly haunted Black abandoned his retirement while suspecting a sadistic pedophile "wizard" and using a little girl named Chrissy (Pauline Roberts) as bait
  • Antoine Fuqua's neo-noir Training Day (2001) starred Best Actor-winning Denzel Washington as corruptible, street-smart veteran black LA police officer/narcotics cop Alonzo Harris who was training rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke)
  • Ron Shelton's grim police thriller Dark Blue (2002), based on a James Ellroy story about brutality, corruption, and racism, told about a 1992 investigation into a quadruple homicide that occurred in a Korean-owned convenience store; it starred Kurt Russell as hard-drinking LAPD elite Special Investigations Squad (SIS) member Sgt. Eldon Perry, his new partner Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), and Keough's uncle - corrupt SIS head Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson) who ordered the robbery that led to the killings
  • Christopher Nolan's noirish psychological thriller Insomnia (2002), a remake of the darker, original 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, starred Al Pacino as anti-hero LA homicide police investigator Will Dormer, under investigation himself by LAPD Internal Affairs and sent to Nightmute, Alaska for the case of a murdered female teen; sleep-deprived Dormer's prime suspect was local mystery writer-killer Walter Finch (Robin Williams); during the proceedings, Dormer accidentally shot his own partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) - witnessed by Finch - and then attempted to cover up the slaughter by pinning it on his menacing, creepy suspect
  • Jane Campion's In the Cut (2003) was adapted from Susanna Moore's 1995 noir best seller; it told about NY creative writing professor, Frannie Avery (Meg Ryan), who had an erotic affair with racist, offensive police Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) investigating a dismemberment-murder in her neighborhood of a woman, while suspecting him of the murder
  • Carl Franklin's plot-twisting neo-noir Out of Time (2003) starred Denzel Washington as small-town Florida police chief Matt Lee Whitlock who must solve a vicious double murder (of his lover Ann Merai (Sanaa Lathan) and her abusive ex-football player husband (Dean Cain)) when he became the prime suspect - while being investigated by his estranged wife Alex (Eva Mendes), an ambitious homicide detective
  • Michael Mann's visually slick and stylistic LA urban noir Collateral (2004) told about a coy LA cabbie hostage named Max (Jamie Foxx) who was forced to drive contract hitman Vincent (Tom Cruise) from one execution to the next over the course of one night, to kill five people involved in an upcoming Justice Department trial regarding drug trafficking
  • Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005) was a gritty and darker version of the super-hero comic book character Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale), set in the retro-futuristic world of Gotham City where he combatted mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson)
  • Rian Johnson's low-budget, mystery teen-noir Brick (2005), his directorial debut film, told about high-schooler Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who investigated the supposed murder of his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), and during his quest encountered a couple of femme fatales (Nora Zehetner and Meagan Good) and other suspects; the film was unusual in that the 21st century teenagers spoke in the hardboiled, detective-language style of Dashiell Hammett tales and adopted 40s styles (costumes, drinks, and music)
  • Canadian director David Cronenberg's noir thriller A History of Violence (2005) told about married couple Tom (Viggo Mortensen) - a diner owner and his sexy wife Edie Stall (Maria Bello) living in a small Indiana town, whose lives were shaken when Tom became a local hero and his past life came back to haunt him in the form of a black-suited, scarred stranger named Fogarty (Ed Harris) - an Irish hood from Philadelphia who remembered him as Joey Cusack
  • co-director Robert Rodriguez' monochrome R-rated, stylized Sin City (2005) with computer-generated visuals, based on Frank Miller's comic book tale about a corrupt seedy metropolis with rain-slicked streets, and all the noir requisites: a voice-over narration (by Josh Hartnett), a tough-guy hero/ex-con named Marv (Mickey Rourke), a sexy and manipulative femme fatale named Gail (Rosario Dawson), an aging policeman named Hartigan (Bruce Willis) protective of exotic stripper/dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba) - and more
  • Brian DePalma's The Black Dahlia (2006) recreated the notorious unsolved murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) in 1947 - based upon James Ellroy's murder mystery novel, following the obsessive quest to solve the killing by LA cops Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart)
  • Best Director-winning Martin Scorsese's viciously-violent Best Picture crime neo-noir tale The Departed (2006) was a remake of Siu Fai Mak's Infernal Affairs (2002, HK), and told about reciprocally-planted 'moles' (or rats) within both the South Boston Irish-American mob (Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon)), led by mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), and the Massachusetts State Police Department (Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio))
  • Allen Coulter's noirish mystery Hollywoodland (2006) retold (in flashback) the unusual circumstances surrounding the death of TV's Superman in 1959, George Reeves (Ben Affleck) through the investigation of down-and-out PI Louis Simo (Adrien Brody)
  • director Christopher Nolan's violence and action-packed superhero Batman film, The Dark Knight (2008), with dark and shadowy lighting in its noirish story of vigilante superhero Batman (with a double identity, also Bruce Wayne - portrayed by Christian Bale) combating crime at night in the urban setting of Gotham City, especially the underworld figures of the Joker (Heath Ledger) and the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), and corruption within the city personified by DA Harvey Dent/Two Face (Aaron Eckhart)


Tech-noirs are modern-day noirs set in futuristic settings. 'Cyberpunk' was first popularized by William Gibson's 1984 book Neuromancer, and best exemplified in the late 70s-90s with the following cyber-noir films - some described earlier:

  • Ridley Scott's dark horror film Alien (1979), set in outer-space, told about the crew of a deep space trawler named Nostromo that became infested with an extraterrestrial parasite from an alien spaceship on an uncharted planet
  • writer/director Peter Hyams' Outland (1981) starred Sean Connery, with a space-related science-fiction plot borrowed from High Noon (1952) - it was ridiculed as "High Moon"
  • also, Ridley Scott's sci-fi thriller Blade Runner (1982) set its film noirish story in a decaying, tech-noir LA society of the future, with Harrison Ford as a futuristic, LA 'blade-running' detective intent on killing replicant-androids
  • Michael Radford's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), based on George Orwell's fearful tale of totalitarianism under Big Brother and filmed with de-colorized shades of color, told about Ministry of Truth worker Winston Smith (John Hurt) who fell in love with Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) with disastrous consequences
  • James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) told about a indestructible cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent from the futuristic year of 2029 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in 1984, the future mother of resistance leader John Connor
  • Paul Verhoeven's Robocop (1987), set in crime-ridden Detroit, told about cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) who was graphically executed in the line of duty, and brought back (resurrected) as a cyborg RoboCop to curb crime in the city led by gang member Clarence Botticker (Kurtwood Smith)
  • Steve de Jarnatt's chilling apocalyptic film noir Miracle Mile (1989) told about a musician (Anthony Edwards) who intercepted a phone booth call outside a coffee shop from a panicked missile silo operator and accidentally learned that a nuclear war had just been initiated
  • Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall (1990), based upon a tale by Philip K. Dick, told about construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in the year 2084 who used the services of Rekall, Inc's travel agency to take a fantasy adventure trip (as a secret agent) to the planet of Mars through an implanted memory chip
  • German director Wim Wenders' haunting, sci-fi noir Until the End of the World (1991), partially a road film and love-triangle story, told about the end of the century in the year 1999, when nuclear war threatened (in the shape of a rogue, out-of-orbit Indian nuclear satellite); it told about young woman Claire Tourneur (Solveig Dommartin) who met a mysterious stranger named "Trevor"/Sam (William Hurt) while serving as a courier for a bank heist, leading her into a web of intrigue around the world
  • the big-budget, cyberpunk film Johnny Mnemonic (1995), a derivative adaptation of scriptwriter William Gibson's own cyberpunk short story, and a Keanu Reeves-precursor to The Matrix (1999), told about the title character, a 21st century courier (Reeves) with downloaded information in his data-packed head who must transport the top-secret data from China to New Jersey in a race against time before his brain exploded (due to 'synaptic seepage') in 24 hours
  • Strange Days - 1995Kathryn Bigelow's film noirish, high-tech apocalyptic thriller Strange Days (1995), from a script co-written by her husband director James Cameron, was set on Millenium New Years Eve; it featured ex-cop hustler Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) who was involved in marketing Virtual Reality discs (sexy and violent digital content or "clips") fed directly into the cortex of the brain; he uncovered a plot involving illicit 'blackjack' playback clips of murders (snuff films)
  • Brett Leonard's cyber-age VR thriller Virtuosity (1995) starred Russell Crowe as computer-generated criminal mastermind named SID 6.7 (Sadistic, Intelligent, Dangerous) in near-future Los Angeles - a virtual reality killer originally to serve as a police-training tool - who broke free into the real world and was pitted against vengeful LA police officer Lt. Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington)
  • New Zealand screenwriter Andrew Niccol's directorial debut film Gattaca (1997) about futuristic genetic engineering was set in the near future; it starred Ethan Hawke as Vincent Freeman - a naturally-born 'in-valid' working as a janitor at the aerospace company Gattaca, who posed as a genetically-engineered elite worker and future astronaut by borrowing the genes of a perfect specimen - he was threatened to be exposed when a murder in the company revealed the presence of a genetic inferior
  • Alex Proyas' labyrinthine, visually-inspiring tech-noir Dark City (1998), a combination of science fiction (inspired by Metropolis (1927)) and crime melodrama, was set in a strange, futuristic, post-modern (40s style), dark urban locale; the story involved an underground, malevolent, pale-skinned alien race called the Strangers (led by Mr. Book (Ian Richardson)) who control human consciousness and memory, and the plight of amnesia-suffering, murder-suspect John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) searching for his identity while eluding police detective Bumstead (William Hurt) and the Strangers, but who also found himself confronted by sinister psychiatrist Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland)
  • David Cronenberg's cautionary, plot-twisting, game-related, alternate-reality, sci-fi horror film eXistenZ (1999) explored a 'virtual reality' (VR) game called Existenz to which players could become addicted; players with organic pods were connected by umbilical-like cords inserted in ``bioports" or orifices at the base of their spines; the deceptive plot was triggered by an assassination attempt during a demonstration of the game by game-master Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh)
  • the Wachowski Brothers' popular, imaginative, visually-stunning science-fiction action film The Matrix (1999) and The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003), began with the premise that all of humanity, in the year 2199, was inside a computer simulation dreamworld (The Matrix), that the actual Earth was scorched, and that everyone had been tricked into believing that the simulation was reality; it starred Keanu Reeves as "Neo" - a computer software company techie programmer and illegal hacker real-named Thomas Anderson - who was informed that he was the champion or chosen one to save Mankind from a malevolent, sentient machine race
  • Josef Rusnak's tech-noir sci-fi, time-twisting and complex film The Thirteenth Floor (1999) told how falsely-accused murder suspect Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko) had to "jack into" the simulated virtual reality world of 1937 LA to discover the truth of the killing
  • Steven Spielberg's cyber-noirish action film Minority Report (2002), from an adapted Philip K. Dick story, was set in the futuristic year of 2054; it starred Tom Cruise as Chief John Anderton of the DC's Department of Pre-Crime - a cop whose job was to prevent pre-committed murders (using the psychic abilities of three "precogs"), until he was forced to flee and prove his innocence when he was identified as a killer, in advance

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