Film noir is one of the most cherished traditions in cinema. Once relegated to the the realm of the B-picture, the traditional aspects of the noir continue to influence all kinds of films, even today. If you pay close attention to even very recent crime films, you'll see many of the traits which once defined film noir. This includes heavy shadows and low-key lighting; cynical values and attitudes, often espoused by the film's main voices; antiheroes, femme fatales, and corrupt cops; and a whole host of other clear-cut noir traits. Some of our modern crime films today carry these influences so obviously that they have been dubbed neo-noirs, and believe us, they pack a punch. We went through some of our favorites, here at Open Air Cinema - neo-noirs that we can't wait to show on an inflatable screen. Anyone of these crime-thrillers belongs in the same hallowed canon as The Third Man, The Maltese Falcon, or The Postman Always Rings Twice. For a thrilling night of cinema under the stars, try one of these tough customers on for size.
(Rian Johnson, 2005)
Frank Zappa once said that adult life is just like high school, but with more money. Director Rian Johnson certainly seems to agree and has done an excellent job of reinforcing that idea by taking the tropes of the classic noir and placing them in a Southern California high school. Amidst jocks, choir geeks, preppies, and burnouts there are informants, hired goons, kingpins, femme fatales, and one hard-nosed gumshoe played to Chandler-esque perfection by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Johnson is thorough in his portrayal of Seedy Underbelly High School. Beyond nailing down the idiosyncratic language of noir and assembling all the archetypes, he bathes each scene in perfect light - or, rather, a perfect lack thereof. Southern California never looked so grey, and noir was never so textbook.
The Way of the Gun
(Christopher McQuarrie, 2000)
If you weren't already thinking it, Christopher McQuarrie invites a sort of perverse comparison to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by insisting (via Ryan Phillippe) that, for the record, our lead antiheroes shall be known as Parker and Longabaugh. But, when you consider the heartless plot of these two drifters - to kidnap the surrogate mother of a wealthy man, hightail it to Mexico, and ransom the unborn child - you see that these two men living on the fringe of society are comparable to Butch and Sundance in name only. Phillippe and partner Benicio Del Toro have one of the best dynamics in the genre, playing even intense scenes with a half-mumbled humor that almost is lost, McQuarrie's direction is tight, and the score will linger with you for a long, long time.
A History of Violence
(David Cronenberg, 2005)
David Cronenberg takes a break from the explicit body horror he's explored in past films for something decidedly slower in pace and shyer in gore, but never any less intense. Viggo Mortensen plays a quiet man whose idyllic small town life is shattered irrevocably when violent men force him to bare the more savage instincts of his shadowy past. Cronenberg makes sure that for every milky, scarred eyeball and every gaping head wound, there is a deep exploration of the psychological toll that the bloodshed takes. Beautifully shot, with heavy shadows even in the sunlight, Cronenberg's film takes American Gothic and gives it a heavy dose of American-style noir brutality.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
(Shane Black, 2005)
Probably one of the most mindlessly entertaining movies in the neo-noir genre, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
takes the tradition of the private dick and turns it on its head. This is partly done with a convoluted plot that almost parodies the overload of twists-and-turns that occur in old mystery films of the past. But the job is completed by the unorthodox characterization and casting - Val Kilmer as an openly gay private eye and Robert Downey Jr. as a cat burglar-turned-actor-turned -real-detective. Both leads have the requisite chops in both drama and humor to give this film a serious edge, even amidst all the playful subversion of form.
No Country for Old Men
(Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007)
There are a million reasons to love this film. It's one of the few perfect adaptations from novel to screen in existence. It's music (or lack thereof) lends a stunning bleakness to this story of mindless greed and violence in the desert. And Cormac McCarthy's words are perfectly delivered by an amazing cast which includes Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, and Javier Bardem as one of the most soulless villains to ever menace the silver screen. But No Country for Old Men
stands out as a neo-noir because of its intense pacing and brilliant cinematography. The desert has always been a good place to wallow in humanity's darker side - but the Coen's perfect neo-noir really drives the point home. Of course, a night of cinema under the stars can be more than just an inflatable screen with a classic movie projected onto it. If you really want your outdoor cinema to stand out, make the screening an actual event. Make it a party. Have everyone show up in their finest noir-type clothes, fedoras and all. Or play a game of Murder while you're waiting for the sun to go down. Taking some time to really throw an event instead of an experience will make your outdoor movie night a true experience, rather than just a decent way to pass the evening.