Category Archives: Crime Movies

Crime Movies | The Usual Suspects (1995)

Crime Movies The Usual Suspects 1995

(via via yengecvebaykus.tumblr.com)

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Recently, I felt the urge to slip into the neo-noir resurgence of the early/mid 90s (when the film industry was still riding waves made by Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs). Though free of the stylistic direction of Tarantino, The Usual Suspects (1995) delivers a gritty dip in the bizarre mythology of the criminal underworld. In true ‘Parker’ fashion, a group of hardened professionals make random acquaintance one night in a police line-up, and decide to embrace fate and go into business. Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), an ex-cop gone robber, proves the reluctant hold-out in a scheme that cannot proceed without him (like Richard Stark’s Parker), but he eventually surrenders to peer pressure.

As the five goons sharpen their act and embrace initial success, they’re horrified to discover the invisible strands of Keyser Soze (a legendary underboss) playing manipulator. They’re eager to distance themselves from the violent villain but they’re tragically clasped in a network of unseen players they’ve cannot hope to escape.

The Usual Suspects (1995) vs. the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The setting is the stale savor of a career criminal’s haunts; police holding cells, hospitals, dive bars, city docks, and the jagged high-rises of the criminally organized.

Crime Movies The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey

(via coiasira-arwen.tumblr.com)

2) The Anti-Hero

Each of the five brings their unique skillset to the table, but it’s Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint (Kevin Spacey) who narrates the film. Dean Keaton is the most likely cast anti-hero (as he’s the only member of the crew with a femme fatale counter-point), but I could just as easily cast Verbal in the role– stuck in muck they can’t rinse.

3) The Femme Fatale

Edie Finneran (Suzy Amis) is the only femme fatale in the film– she’s used as leverage by Keyser Soze against Dean, and thus he navigates the 5 men to his desired ends. Her screen-time is pitiful, but her impact undeniable; Dean would never do Soze’s will without the threat of harm towards the woman he loves.

The Usual Suspects Dean Keaton

(via coiasira-arwen.tumblr.com)

4) Misogyny

No misogyny worth mentioning. (the unwitting ‘damsel in distress’ angle is a central theme yet it’s not portrayed in a demeaning way)

5) Redemption

The entire crew wishes to be free from Soze and go about their lives; thus they’re in a constant state of trying to redeem themselves from his grasp. Additionally, Verbal (as the lone survivor) must talk is way out of lasting trouble with cops.

6) Eroticism

No eroticism worth mentioning.

The Usual Suspects Crime Movies

(via coiasira-arwen.tumblr.com)

7) Loss of Innocence

Soze’s story, his inception even, is born out of a horrible story that involves the raping of his wife and the killing of his children. Keyser arrives home one night to discover his family is being held hostage by some rival gang members. They’ve done unspeakable harm to his wife and terrified his children. Rather than bend to their demands, Keyser himself shoots his wife and kids, then all but one of the gang members. He left the man alive as a witness that he could not be intimidated. In the film he’s described as  “a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. ‘Rat on your pop, and Keyser Söze will get you.”

8 ) Smoke

Beautiful nods to the noir genre are found in the employment of cigarettes in the script. We even get a lovely ‘flick of the cigarette to light the gasoline’ moment. Exquisite.

Crime Movies The Usual Suspects 1995

(via coiasira-arwen.tumblr.com)

9) Emasculation

See Keyser Soze. This man, rather than suffer the emasculation of begging for his wife and kids, killed them himself. Juxtapose his story with that of Dean Keaton (and the other usual suspects), who were ensnared by Soze because they allowed themselves to fear for their familial relations.

“How do you shoot the Devil in the back? What if you miss?”

As a piece of noir, The Usual Suspects meets the meter beautifully in a few aspects but as a whole misses the mark. As a crime movie, it’s superb. It’s a fun film to watch, and is easily spoiled by online reviewers. So if you haven’t seen it, go watch it before you read anything else.

1 Comment

Filed under Crime Movies

Crime Movies | Looper (2012)

Crime Movies Looper 2012

Looper (2012) (via terrymalloysnose.tumblr.com)

I attended the 8:20 pm showing of Looper (2012) last night with friends, and after hearing so many positive remarks about the film, I was filled with lusty anticipation. Near the 20 minute mark I was sold, already plotting how I would swing the cash to get it on blu-ray release day. Looper is an instant cross-genre classic– finely weaving my beloved neo-noir/crime movie genre with science fiction thriller. The story was fresh, the dialogue nearly free of eye-rolling dramatics, and the solid acting carried me breathless past the finish line.

The trailer for the film does it a great disservice, for it makes the story seem more bizarre than needful, fails to highlight each member of the wonderful cast, and doesn’t play to the strong cinematics and cool vibe that permeates the picture. Meaning, when I saw the preview some months ago I thought it looked interesting, but it failed to arrest my attention. I didn’t even know it had such strong noir elements. The only reason I attended Looper at all was due to the flood of positive word-of-mouth reviews; So I’ll add mine to the stack.

In 2044, time travel hasn’t been invented yet. But, in 30 years, when it finally becomes a reality– it’s quickly outlawed because of the messy consequences associated with such an event. Future gangsters, illegally using time travel, send people back to 2044 to be killed and disposed of by ‘Loopers.’ The Loopers are well-compensated for their service, but eventually each Looper knows that the Mob will ‘close their loop’–meaning, they’ll kill their future selves. This results in a big pay day, a discharge from the service of the mob, and 30 years to live on their earnings. When Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fails to close his loop, he must battle wits with his future self (Bruce Willis) to save his life.

Noir Definition breakdown:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The setting of Looper is a filthy future Kansas– The city is overrun with garbage, ramshackle vehicles, brothels, and vagrants. The farming communities nearby are wholesome snapshots of the past, though frequently threatened by hungry homeless and other unsavory pilgrims from the city. The present frontier of an ever encroaching evil world.

2) The Anti-Hero

Joe the younger and Joe the elder are completely different characters; Although the same individual, time and a wealth of experiences separate them. Young Joe is a junkie– He’s making a good bit of cash as a Looper, and spending as much of it as he can on drugs, women, and any other pleasure he can purchase. He’s a stoic pessimist with no loyalty for anyone other than himself. Old Joe is filled with regrets– He is completely consumed by the desire to return to his wife in the future, the woman who cleaned him up and saved his live, at any cost. He’s a brutal realist, a violent veteran, and a grateful though irrationally desperate human being. They both monologue beautifully at different points in the film– TOTAL noir.

Neo Noir Emily Blunt Looper

Emily Blunt as Sara (via heyadamlooney.tumblr.com)

3) The Femme Fatale

Sara (Emily Blunt) is the femme fatale in Looper. Without dropping too many spoilers, she creates the right amount of tension and desire to conflict Young Joe. She’s at the crux of many important choices in the story, each of them deadly, which is prerequisite for any true femme fatale.

4) Misogyny

Looper does a fair job portraying female characters as proud and independent while simultaneously making them damsels in distress. So even though the script isn’t blatantly misogynistic, classic themes of the ‘helpless woman’ pepper the tale.

Crime Movies Piper Parabo Looper

Piper Parabo as Suzie doing some very NOIR burlesque (via digitalspy.com)

5) Redemption

The film is bursting with redemptive themes– Young Joe wanting to close his loop and redeem his failure, Old Joe trying to reconcile the future with the present, Sara haunted by past missteps– Loads of intellectual and spiritual redemption happening in Looper. 

6) Eroticism

Okay, this is where I was a bit peeved. Piper Parabo’s character Suzie indulges the audience in some pointless nudity (breasts). The prolonged scene was strange and uncomfortable, nothing arousing/erotic about it. I applauded the fact that Sara has a scene later without nudity, but it still wasn’t very erotic- it felt clunky. This is one of the only points of the definition that I felt Looper missed the mark.Each sexual encounter was lacking the finesse found in a typical neo-noir/film noir picture.

Neo Noir Jeff Daniels Looper

Jeff Daniels as Abe, the Mob Boss (via flix66.com)

7) The Loss of Innocence

The loss of innocence theme was POWERFUL in Looper. The more you learn of each character’s past, the more you hurt for them– the more you endorse their destructive behaviors. Childhood innocence is a recurring theme, and how it must be protected to prevent tragedy in the future. Also, there was a fairly disturbing scene towards the beginning of the film, where a broken loop is enticed to stop running; He hadn’t considered what could happen to him if his past self was captured by the mob…

8 ) Smoke

I was delighted by the homage to film noir in Looper– smoke and cigarette integral throughout. My favorite moment was when a quiet Sara, sitting upon her porch, pretended to pull out a cigarette, light and smoke it. Even though the cigarette was absent from the scene, you could see the implicated themes of addiction, control, and temptation playing across her features.

Crime Movies Noah Segan Looper

Noah Segan as Kid Blue (via hiddlestonismon.tumblr.com)

9) Immasculation

Can we all just root for Kid Blue (Noah Segan)? The poor guy can’t catch a break. He’s a goon for the mob boss Abe (Jeff Daniels), and it seems like he completely botches every assignment he’s given. By the end of the film, I was actively cheering for him– so do me a favor and pull for Kid Blue when you see Looper.

I can’t wait to own this film on blu-ray– It’s noir elements were executed so beautifully that I kinda hate Rian Johnson (the writer/director) for thinking of it first.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime Movies

Crime Movies | Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Crime Movies Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) (via impawards.com)

I discovered Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) by accident. I was drowning one day in my Tumblr dashboard, and I spotted a .gif image of Robert Downey, Jr. crouched in a bathroom on a cell phone in panic. The caption read vaguely about “peeing on a corpse,” and he was worried that the police could trace it back to him. When I finished laughing, I spent the next few hours tracking down which film the clip was snagged from–Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. 

Harry: I peed on it.
Perry: What? You peed on what?
Harry: I peed on the corpse. Can they do, like, ID from that?
Perry: I’m sorry, you peed on…?
Harry: On the corpse. My question is…
Perry: No, my question, I get to go first: Why in pluperfect hell would you pee on a corpse?
Harry: I didn’t intend to! It’s not like I did it for kicks!

The film is a happy blend of neo-noir, dark comedy, and the crime movie genres. It reflects each in a ‘fingers-crossed’ behind its back sort-of-way, never committing to any seriously while simultaneously paying homage to all. The plot is a ball of yarn you’re tangled in, and when you think you’ve raveled it, the ball rolls down the stairs. Its sober moments are defused by frequently adjacent hilarity, pitch-perfect dialogue, and magnificent parody.

Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer

Gay Perry and Harry (via nogoodsharks.tumblr.com)

[Mild Spoilers Below]

Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.), narrates the film, which begins with a bungled burglary. When Harry’s friend is killed as they’re fleeing, he evades police pursuit in a random building. Auditions for an upcoming film are being held in the room he happens upon, and the script seems to resemble the tragic events of his current situation. His moving (real) performance is mistaken for ‘method-acting,’ and the impressed producers book him as a potential actor for the part. At a pre-screen test party in Hollywood, he meets “Gay” Perry Van Shrike (Val Kilmer), a Private Investigator, who has been hired by the producers of the film to help Harry research his role. When a corpse and a childhood crush make a sudden appearance in Harry’s life, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang quickly becomes a crime film worth watching.

Neo-Noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Perry and Harry finding a body (via cinemagreat.tumblr.com)

Lets discuss its noir merits with the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The setting of the film is primarily the Los Angeles and Hollywood areas near Christmas time; Posh parties, swanky mansions, and luxury hotel rooms serve as the backdrop for devious deeds.

2) The Anti-Hero

Harry and Perry are explosive onscreen. Their chemistry is contagious, and their timing and delivery is an ode to a lost era of film (Neil Simon, Murder by Death). Typical “buddy cop” movie cliches are addressed then destroyed, and I was left rolling in the aftermath. At his core, Harry is a romantic, but he’s also a man chewed-up by his previous marriage. When the opportunity arrives to impress his childhood sweetheart, Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), he creates a lie that could work. 

3) The Femme Fatale

Harmony plays the femme fatale in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. She’s the dame that Harry will risk everything for, and the audience knows it, but she’s oblivious. Her history is complicated, her stake is great, and the odds are bad–but Harry knows she’s a damsel he’ll save.

Michelle Monaghan Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Harmony Faith Lane (via misswinterbell.tumblr.com)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 2005

Harmony and Harry (via cuorerivelatore.tumblr.com)

4) Misogyny

The film had an interesting angle of misogyny that I hadn’t expected because it was aimed at Gay Perry. Because of his sexual orientation, the men in the supporting cast are threatened by him (except Harry). The threat causes them to attack and react harshly in many scenarios, pushing Perry back or relegating him socially. I was fascinated to see that misogynists struggle to define a homosexual; they don’t want to treat him like a woman or a man, so they don’t treat him like a human being.

5) Redemption

A central motive for Harry is the lost chance he had for romance as children with Harmony. It drives him to lie to her about his vocation. He tells her that he’s a private eye like Perry in order to close the gap between them. He hopes to ignite something in her that he’s been sheltering for years. If she’ll share the flame, he’ll be redeemed.

6) Eroticism

Most of the eroticism in the film is snuffed by situational comedy–not that I’m complaining, but there isn’t a lot of it. I felt that the most compelling moments of the film were when Harry’s feelings for Harmony were transparent. You ache for him because he really loves her, and it’s beyond the selfish reach of simple lust.

7) Loss of Innocence

[SPOILER] Harry shoots and kills a goon named Mustard, and his reaction is surprising because of its authenticity. He’s deeply affected by it. Main characters in films rarely react to killing ‘a bad guy’ anymore. I was refreshed by RDjr’s treatment of the event– he made it real, and he brought us along with him.[END SPOILER] [.gifs (via mandawins.tumblr.com)]

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Crime Movie

Hey Perry, I shot a guy.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Neo-Noir

I never did that before.

8 ) Smoke

I honestly can’t remember if there was cigarette smoking in the film or not. I’m assuming yes, because everything else was there. The relic of old noir that was most apparent was the narration style. Harry recounts the events of the story as they’re happening, and he hangs grim metaphors on each.

9) Immasculation

I’ve gotta go back to Gay Perry. He’s actually the least immasculated character in the film, even though he’s threatened with it incessantly. He’s collected and confident, a well-dressed man who’s self possessed in a way that renders him immune to verbal assault. Perry is the immasculator, not the immasculated.

I know that every noir lover will do one thing after they see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang–you’ll look online for the “Johnny Gossamer” books. Tragically, they are a fake book series created for the film. Robert McGinnis lent his fabulous talent for the risque pulp covers– you can see them here. (NSFW). SOMEONE MAKE THEM REAL, PLEASE.

Please watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), it’s a particularly delicious neo-noir crime movie.

Why not sign up for the LOVEFiLM free trial. You can watch free movies online including many of the classics of the film noir genre as well as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang!

3 Comments

Filed under Crime Movies

Crime Movies | Drive (2011)

Crime Movies Drive 2011

Drive (2011) Film Poster (via blogs.metrotimes.com)

“There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?”

As far as crime movies go, Drive (2011) is a terrific neo-noir thriller. Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, and Ron Perlman to name a few, the film was an absolute delight. The first thing I noticed was the lack of dialogue; Drive is intersected by periods of silence, varying in length and intensity. Some of these periods of quiet are unsettling, some beautiful, some tragic, but it’s in these moments that the story is told. The soundtrack can be easily divided into two categories: first, the primal throb of powerful engines and second, a handful of vintage songs. Both were perfectly suited to the film (I bet that most people googled the soundtrack while walking out of the theater, it’s that striking).

The second thing that struck me was the subtlety of Ryan Gosling’s take on his character (who is never given a name other than “Driver”). He and Carey Mulligan did a superb job relaying emotion through the smallest means possible. Nothing was “over-acted” and each of their characters appear completely genuine. I felt that the apparent lack of effort made them more believable, and ultimately relateable.

Drive Ryan Gosling

The Driver (Ryan Gosling) Scorpion Jacket (via andoooo.tumblr.com)

I’ll attempt to relay the plot in as few sentences as possible, I know that lengthy synopsis can become tiresome: The Driver is a auto mechanic by day, an infrequent stuntman, and a wheelman in the criminal underworld. He develops feelings for his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), who is raising a son on her own because her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is in jail. Their romance is cut short by Standard’s premature release from the penitentiary. Irene doesn’t know that her man is in deep with the mafia, and when the Driver learns that she’s potentially in danger he volunteers to help Standard out. The lone wheelman bites off more than he can chew.

Carey Mulligan Drive 2011

Irene (Carey Mulligan) (via movies.about.com)

Here’s my homebrew noir definition rundown:

1) The Seedy Underworld

Hollywood. A pizzeria, a garage, a greasy motel, the back room of a strip-club, and miles of road weave a vivid neo-noir backdrop.

2) The Anti-Hero

The Driver doesn’t want to be a hero, but is, and that’s what we like about him. He’s quiet without the shyness, and when he’s angry he becomes a frightening potential we can identify within ourselves, and it scares the hell out of us.

3) The Femme Fatale

Irene is the clueless femme fatale. She’s unaware of the danger she’s in and the sacrifice that the Driver is making for her until nearly the end of the film. She’s truly a femme fatale because it’s because of her that the Driver is willing to place himself in the line of fire. Blanche (Christina Hendricks) is also a femme fatale thematically, for reasons that I won’t spoil here.

Christina Hendricks Drive 2011

Blanche (Christina Hendricks) (via wegotthiscovered.com)

4) Misogyny

The misogyny in the film feels formulaic; Irene’s oblivious to her situation and simultaneously helpless, it’s a classic ‘damsel in distress’ formula- but it’s insulting to women because it type-casts them as victims. Additionally, one scene takes place in the back of a strip-club for no other reason than to objectify the women in the scene and characterize the villain who is lurking there. I only like this scene because it’s designed to be misogynistic, it makes us feel no remorse for the man who runs the club.

5) Redemption

Redemption is a definite theme in the film. Standard craves redemption for his colored past and the Driver craves redemption for feeling the way he does about a married woman. Also, Irene and her son must be redeemed from the mob who wishes them harm, redemption that can only come through Standard and the Driver.

“A lot of guys mess around with married women, but you’re the only one I know who robs a joint just to pay back the husband. Crazy.”

6) Eroticism

Drive is permeated by the unfulfilled promise of eroticism. There are no sex scenes, and the only nudity occurs in the back room of the strip-club (which is simultaneously the most violent scene in the film, so…not sexy). The most erotic moment is when Irene and the Driver share a kiss in an elevator, moments before an act of horrifying violence. It’s a great moment, and honestly I was grateful that the film was so tame. Because we never see them consummate their love, we truly feel like outsiders– and this makes their relationship seem even more beautiful.

Drive 2011 Elevator Kiss Drive 2011 Elevator Kiss
Drive Elevator Kiss Scene Drive Elevator Kiss Scene

(GIF images from onscreenkisses.tumblr.com)

7) Loss of Innocence

Irene’s son, Benicio, undergoes the biggest loss of innocence when he sees his father brutally beaten by mob muscle. Before they leave, they give him a bullet and tell him to hang on to it because the next time they come back they’re going to use it. What a horrible thing to do to a little boy.

8) Emasculation

Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is the most emasculated character in the film. He acts as a surrogate father to the Driver, but he’s constantly being driven under the heel of the mafia. His broken pelvis and permanent limp are witness to a history as peppered with risk and heartbreak as the Driver’s future. Shannon’s a shell of a man.

9) Smoke

The Driver doesn’t smoke. I felt that making sure the audience knew this was a conscious decision to break with the film noir genre while simultaneously paying homage to it. Shannon says to the Driver early in the film:

“You look like a zombie, kid. You getting any sleep? Can I offer you some benzedrine, dexedrine, caffeine, nicotine? Oh, you don’t smoke. That’s right. Better off.”

It’s as if Shannon knows that when you smoke, you’re doomed for a tragic noir ending. Guess it didn’t matter, right?

Drive (2011) is textbook neo-noir. Oddly enough, several times during the film, I felt it had a Memento (2000) vibe– I think I’m going to stage a little double feature at my place, any takers?

One word of caution: Drive is EXTREMELY violent at points. Some of the most brutal/bloody images I’ve ever seen. It’s not a film for the faint of heart.

Drive Ryan Gosling Stunt Mask

Ryan Gosling in Stunt Mask (via filmdrunk.uproxx.com)

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime Movies

Crime Movies | Dirty Harry (1971)

Crime Movies Dirty Harry 1971

Dirty Harry (1971) (via impawards,com)

Dirty Harry is a great example of a neo noir -ish crime movie. Clint Eastwood plays a hard-boiled detective turned action hero named “Dirty” Harry Callahan, who must go head to head with a psychopathic sniper calling himself “Scorpio.” I was surprised by how much this film resonated with my memories and impressions of the Die Hard series, this truly a spiritual predecessor of those action heavy films. As far as noir goes, the genre definitely influences the design of the Harry’s character and the harried pace of his predicament, but the greatly stylized aspects of the film noir era have evaporated; delivering a film that is much more action oriented (and much more shallow).

Don’t misquote me, I enjoyed Dirty Harry a great deal, but I felt that it was a far cry from the crime films of the former era. Although a classic vehicle for several famous scenes and equally famous lines, the hollow spaces where certain noir defined elements should have resided left me wanting.

I know what you’re thinking: “Did he fire six shots, or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well do ya, punk?

Here’s the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The sleazy streets of San Francisco in the 1970s is the backdrop for this violent caper. Skin joints, liquor stores, back alleys, and abandoned rooftops catch the collateral damage of Scorpio and Harry’s whirlwind.

2) The Anti-Hero

Dirty Harry is a pillar of masculinity. Indeed, the plot revolves around the unwavering machismo of the violent anti-hero. His character’s development doesn’t come into harmony with the film until he admits that he’ll have to become something more to take on a killer like Scorpio (Much like a Batman vs. Joker Dark Knight Arc, yes?).

Crime Movies Dirty Harry Callahan Clint Eastwood

“Dirty” Harry Callahan (via theedgeoftheframe.com)

3) The Femme Fatale

No femme fatale is found in this crime movie, but I can only imagine how the story could have benefited from a strong female lead opposite Mr. Eastwood.

4) Misogyny

It’s a movie for men, made by men. Women are portrayed as sexual objects throughout the work, but never by Harry himself.

5) Redemption

Harry’s failure to take Scorpio into custody initially spurs the redemption theme. His masculinity will not allow him to fail a second time.

6) Eroticism

Flesh abounds in the film. It seems that they never miss an opportunity to show something suggestive to the audience, but this habit always appears from the margins. It’s never Harry’s central focus or purpose.

Crime Movies Dirty Harry Scorpio Killer

Scorpio (via movingimagesource.us)

7) Loss of Innocence

A teenage girl is abused, raped, and then buried alive (we don’t see any of this, we are just told that it is happening). And in another great loss of innocence, Harry’s rookie partner resigns from the force after a near brush with death.

Now you know why they call me Dirty Harry: every dirty job that comes along. 

8 ) Racism

Scorpio hires a black man to beat him up, and shouts racial slurs at the man the entire time it’s happening.

9) Smoke

As in all great neo noir or crime movies, smoke is a spidery and ever present prop.

10) Emasculation

I hinted earlier that Harry’s masculinity would not allow him to fail a second time to capture Scorpio. Every victory that Scorpio has against the SFPD and the city, Harry takes personally. He’s willing to go beyond the law to do what he feels must be done, even removing his badge and becoming a violent vigilante to protect his manhood.

As far as crime movies go, I loved Dirty Harry. It has all the makings of a timeless classic, I just wished for a strong female lead to balance all of the testosterone flying around.

1 Comment

Filed under Crime Movies

Noir Definition | Film Noir vs. Crime Movies

A recent discussion with a noir-loving friend from Liverpool, UK (Hi Hobnob!) has inspired me to make some changes here on noirWhale.com. We were discussing Scarface, and he was asking me how I can justify defining it as a film noir. The answer is, I can’t. Even though the film has many noir aspects, and can easily fit into the noir definition that I have crafted, it still isn’t inherently film noir. The piece of my definition that is missing is the stylistic element of film noir. The light, shadow, and dramatic cinematography is just as vital as any other component present in a completed noir work.

Film Noir

(via mistercrew.com)

This style, coupled with the noir definition, separates a film noir from a crime movie. Now, this is not to say that crime films are not noir. Quite the opposite actually, as crime films have their ancestral roots in the golden era of film noir. And the same is true vice versa. Some film noir pieces are crime movies, some are not. But there must be a division, a line drawn in the sand.

Going forward, I’ll be dividing the films that I review into two distinct categories, Crime Movies and Film Noir. The Crime Movies category will be home to the noir-inspired works that aren’t quite film noir, and the Film Noir category will be home to the stylistic masterpieces of the genre.

Here is a list of the film reviews I’ve done so far, reassigned to their appropriate categories:

Film Noir

The Third Man (1949)

Night and the City (1950)

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Crime Movies/ Neo-Noir

Chinatown (1974)

Scarface (1983)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Sin City (2005)

Max Payne (2008)

*Thank you Nicolas from Mugre Y Sangre for the further clarification between Film Noir, Crime Movies, and Neo-Noir. I truly appreciate the correction. Thanks for helping to make noirWhale.com great.

1 Comment

Filed under Crime Movies, Film Noir, Noir Definition

Film Noir | Scarface (1983)

Film Noir Scarface

Scarface (1983)

Scarface, starring Al Pacino, is an essential part of any film noir/crime drama list. Volumes have already been written about it, so I’ll avoid summarizing its plot or ranting about its genius. If you’re looking for a summary, check here. If you’re interested in how Scarface performs as a piece of noir defined media, read on.

Film Noir Scarface Seedy Underworld

The Big Bathtub

1) The Seedy Underworld

The seedy underworld of Scarface is primarily the sun-drenched beaches, gaudy manors, and hedonistic night clubs of Florida. The film noir dips down to South America twice, where we’re shown a factory FILLED with thousands of kilos of cocaine, and there’s a trip to New York City as well. Other settings include car dealerships, taco stands, and huge bathtubs.  Scarface set the standard for tropical noir, and these settings have influenced dozens of other works.

Film Noir Scarface Anti Hero

Al Pacino as Tony Montana

2) The Anti-Hero

Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is the anti-hero of Scarface. A recently naturalized Cuban refugee, he’s headstrong, arrogant, and egotistical to a fault. Yet, overall, he’s unbelievably ambitious. Tony walks a maddening line between decency and depravity, causing audiences to simultaneously love and hate him. This balance is what every anti-hero strives for, and Tony nails it. Pacino’s role has become an iconic mainstay of American cinema, no other actor will ever be able to pick it up again.

Film Noir Scarface Femme Fatale

Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira Hancock

3) The Femme Fatale

Two women qualify as femme fatales in Scarface. First, Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer) is an excellent example because she represents the unobtainable. As the boss’ wife, she is the angelic symbol of Tony’s aspirations. She becomes the embodiment of success and achievement, and Tony believes that he can have her (and must have her). Her presence in the story drives him to absurd lengths, and sets him on his final fatal trajectory.

Film Noir Scarface Femme Fatale

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Gina Montana

Second, Tony’s sister Gina Montana (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is also a femme fatale because she also lends to his downfall. She represents the only pure thing left in his life, and his powerful desire to protect her becomes a stumbling block late in the film. It leads to his irrational slaughter of her husband (and his best friend) Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer), and his failure to halt the impending demise of his empire.

Film Noir Scarface Misogyny

Gina and Tony

4) Misogyny

Misogyny plays a definite role in the way that Tony Montana’s world is interpreted. His interactions with the opposite gender border on domination, and even though his behaviors seem influenced by love, they are ultimately misogynistic. His utter disrespect and disregard for Gina’s agency is the most potent witness of this theme (see above). With his own wife, misogyny takes on a different form. He has a list of ideals that he expects her to be, and then he verbally berates her when she fails to meet his standard. Both relationships are unhealthy, and each are fraught with masculine oppression of the feminine.

Film Noir Scarface Redemption

What's in your past Tony?

5) Redemption

The redemption theme in Scarface is subtle. This subtlety is a result of the lack  Tony Montana’s background story. We learn that his father was American (at least Tony says so), but no further details are given. Additionally, the setting in which he reveals this does not inspire belief (he’s being interrogated by US Customs). It appears that the ambitious fabric of  Tony’s character is based upon some past failure that is never shown, or some embarrassment that he is over-compensating for. We’re never given the full story, but he seems driven for a redemption that we cannot understand. (Anyone interested in seeing a Scarface prequel? I am).

“What you lookin’ at? You all a bunch of f***in’ a**holes. You know why? You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be. You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your f***in’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”

Film Noir Scarface Eroticism

Steven Bauer as Manny Ribera

6) Eroticism

The theme of eroticism also plays an important role in the film noir Scarface. It revolves almost entirely around Manny’s character, because sex seems to be one of his central motivations. He’s constantly in pursuit of it, and we see him frequently indulging his carnal appetite. Alternately, Tony sets his sights early upon Elvira, and all other women fade from his view. To him, it’s not so much that she’s beautiful as she’s untouchable. Her unavailability is erotic to him.

Film Noir Scarface Loss of Innocence

The Chainsaw Scene

7) Loss of Innocence

Probably the most memorable scene involves a horrific display of violence and a resulting loss of innocence for Tony. His first real chance to prove himself in Frank Lopez’s (Robert Loggia) organization is during a drug exchange. He’s given money to purchase cocaine from a group of Columbians and the swap turns violent. Tony watches his friend Angel (Pepe Serna) get cut to pieces with a chainsaw. The effect on this event has on him is interesting, because instead of frightening him away from the drug-lord lifestyle it encourages him. He seems to reverence the memory of Angel by striving to make his death count for something.

8 ) Racism

The only racism in the film is delivered by a stand-up comedian (Richard Belzer), who makes several jabs at Cubans right before the famous night club shoot-out.

Film Noir Scarface Smoke

Tony enjoys a cigar

9) Smoke

Cubans with Cuban cigars throughout the film prove that Scarface appreciates its noir roots.

10) Emasculation

Tony Montana is completely driven by the fear of emasculation. This fear helps us to understand his trigger-happy reaction to Manny and Gina’s marriage. Having previously warned Manny to stay away from her, he was humiliated when he found out that they had gone behind his back. To Tony, his only means of salvaging his manhood was through violence. Throughout the film, he won’t allow himself to be belittled or bullied in any way. This theme rears itself again in New York City when Sosa’s (Paul Shenar) organization expects him to car bomb a man, his wife, and children. Tony becomes angry and shoots Sosa’s representative. The apex of his masculinity reached at the top of the grand staircase in his house, where he guns down dozens of Sosa’s assassins while taunting them. Here are the final lines of the film, the testament to his ego:

Who you think you f***ing with?
I’m Tony Montana!
You f*** with me,
you f***ing with the best!
I’m still standing.
Come on! I take your f***ing bullet!
Come on! I take your f***ing bullet!
You think you kill me with bullets?
I take your f***ing bullets! Go ahead!

Film Noir Scarface Emasculation

"Say hello to my little friend"

Thank you Brian De Palma (Director) and Oliver Stone (Writer) for this exquisite film noir.

TRIVIA From IMDB:

“F” word used 226 times

Oliver Stone wrote this film while fighting a cocaine addiction

The Spanish title of the film, “El Precio del Poder”, literally translates to “The Price of Power”.

The word “yeyo” is used by Tony Montana (Al Pacino) as a slang word for cocaine. This word was not in the script, and was ad-libbed by Pacino during the first drug deal scene (chainsaw scene), and Brian De Palma liked it enough to keep using it throughout the film. Pacino learned the word while learning the Cuban accent.

Scarface earned Brian De Palma the Razzie nomination”Worst Director”

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime Movies, Film Noir

Film Noir | Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Film Noir Reservoir Dogs Cover

I need one of these suits.

Okay. I know that I am outrageously behind the times, but I had never seen Quentin Tarantino’s film noir debut Reservoir Dogs until yesterday. Like many of the Tarantino films I have seen before, Reservoir Dogs is laden with profanity and gratuitous violence. BUT, as far as innovation in the crime/ film noir genre, this film may be without equal (that is until Pulp Fiction arrives on the scene two years later). The director’s storytelling style is very heavy on flashback sequences (which for some reason feels very Anime, you may or may not know what I mean), and he unravels the plot a single thread at a time. I’ve found that this method keeps the audience hanging on every line, because so much focus is needed to keep the story straight. So you will either applaud it as a masterpiece, or you weren’t able to follow the plot.

Film Noir Reservoir Dogs Opening Scene

Iconic film noir opening

The cast is packed with heavy hitters, and the acting was a perfect balance of over-the-top drama and natural rhythm. Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Chris Penn, and Michael Madsen make up the “core” cast of actors. But the real star of the film is the dialogue. Tarantino delivers a sarcastic wit that is unmatched in the film noir genre, truly remarkable. From the first scene to the last I was riveted by the unfolding personalities portrayed through dialogue.

Nice Guy Eddie: C’mon, throw in a buck!
Mr. Pink: Uh-uh, I don’t tip.
Nice Guy Eddie: You don’t tip?
Mr. Pink: Nah, I don’t believe in it.

Film Noir Reservoir Dogs Mr. Pink Mr. White

infighting

Here is how it looks next to our noir definition:

1. The Seedy Underworld

A low-lit diner in the beginning, and an abandoned warehouse for the remainder of the film noir.

Mr. Blonde: Hey Joe, you want me to shoot this guy?
Mr. White: [laughs] Shit… You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize.

2. The Anti-Hero

I really had to do some thinking on this one, I would have to say it was Mr. Orange. He was the undercover cop and the unfortunate victim of a painful gunshot wound to the belly. He was the only “good guy” in the film, but he was far from perfect.

Film Noir Reservoir Dogs Mr. Orange

an unlikely anti-hero

3. The Femme Fatale

Wha? none to speak of. I guess if we were really analyzing we could say that the diamonds were actually the femme fatale.

Mr. Blonde: Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?
Mr. White: What was that? I’m sorry, I didn’t catch it. Would you repeat it?
Mr. Blonde: Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?

4. Misogyny

Lots of crude dialogue about women, but no female characters present to be offended.

Mr. Brown: Let me tell you what ‘Like a Virgin’ is about. It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The entire song. It’s a metaphor for big dicks.

5. Redemption

One of the main driving themes to the film is redemption. These crooks are trying to redeem their failed “job” by trying to sniff out the rat in their group that tipped off the cops.

Mr. Pink: Somebody’s shoved a red-hot poker up our ass, and I want to know whose name is on the handle!

Film Noir Reservoir Dogs Mr. Blonde Mr. White Mr. Pink

a cop in the trunk

6. Eroticism

No sex or nudity, but there is a torture scene where Mr. Blonde cuts a cop’s ear off. The way it is portrayed, it’s easy to construe a sexual connotation from Mr. Blonde’s reaction: “Was it good for you too?”

7. Loss of Innocence

Mr. Orange shoots and kills a civilian while undercover. The look on his face says it all. Innocence right out the window.

I really enjoyed this film noir.

The film contains 272 uses of the “f” word. 96% on RottenTomatoes.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime Movies, Film Noir

Film Noir | Pulp Fiction (1994)

I had never seen the film noir Pulp Fiction until this week and let me just say that I am blown away. Truth be told, the hype level for this film has been through the roof for the last several years, but I had never gotten around to watching it. Now I feel like a fool. Quentin Tarantino’s snappy dialogue and witty banter is as hilarious as it is entertaining, and he seems to break cleanly with the cliches of film noir history. I don’t wish to do a typical review where I dissect the plot-line and events of the film because there is already such a wealth of reviews out there. Instead, I will just highlight some of the features of this film noir that stuck out to me in phenomenal ways.

1) No Cops
One aspect of Pulp Fiction that was most refreshing to me was the fact that a police officer never makes an appearance. This may seem small, but it seems that in every crime film noir there is always a bevy of cops to thwart the robbers, and this is a tapped-out plot device. By removing the police from the plot, a host of different issues crop up and keep the action fully centered on the characters of the criminal underworld and how they relate to one another.

Film Noir Pulp Fiction Vincent and Jules

Text Book Anti-Heroes from our noir definition

2) Jules and Vincent
The banter between Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) is nearly perfect in its execution. There is a chemistry between the two that is akin to a buddy cop film gone wrong. I couldn’t stop laughing at their argumentative debates and harrowing scenarios. Royale Burgers, foot massages, and cleaning up bits of brain matter, three cheers for their dialogue; it was the slow burning diesel that lit up this film noir.

3) What cliche?
I sensed a purposeful rebellion against the cliches of film noir in Pulp Fiction. One the the most obvious has already been mentioned: No Cops. But another that sharply stands out is during Vincent’s play-date with his boss’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman). During their entire date, I fully expected them to sleep together. The drama and tension between the two seems to build steadily in that direction to the point that we find Vincent in Mia’s bathroom giving himself a pep talk to just leave and not have sex with her. And then the lightning fast plot-shift when she overdoses on some drugs that she finds in his coat. Their night changes from untapped sexual tension to desperation and preservation as Vincent rushes to save her life. Potent film noir drama.

Film Noir Pulp Fiction Poster

perfect femme fatale for this film noir

4) Humor
“The Bonnie Situation” was one of the funniest sequences in any film noir that I have ever seen. Simply because the whole plot revolved around a bloody mishap and helping a friend avoid a divorce. It was a great change of pace in the film, and it injected an element of humor in an otherwise grim scenario. I also thought that the very first scene was magical, simply because it went so quickly from pledges of love and devotion between a couple to a violent language dripping robbery. It’s in the contrasts that this film becomes a classic.

5) Dislikes
Yuck. There were only two parts of the film that I didn’t enjoy. Although no nudity is shown, the rape scene was really hard to stomach. I think this is because the scene was so dark and depraved, and the whole time you want so badly to deny that any human being could do such a thing. Also, this is really minor, but Quentin Tarantino actually plays a role in the film, and I felt that his character was the least believable. I mean, there was a scene where he was yelling the “N-word” dozens of times at Samuel L. Jackson and I had a hard time believing that Jules would put up with that. I don’t know, maybe I’m being nit-picky but the scene felt strange.

All in all, this film noir was amazing. Easily in my top five favorite crime films. Everything was so stylized and dramatic from the camera angles to the soundtrack. And any film that can pull off extended dance scenes in a natural and memorable way is solid. Cheers to the cast and crew. Pulp Fiction will go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest films ever made.

Won the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Quentin Taratino & Roger Avary)

Rotten Tomatoes gives it: 94%

264 “F” words.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime Movies, Film Noir