Seedy underbellies, anti-heroes, plot twists and moral corruption: you can’t have a film noir without these can you? These highly-stylised crime dramas, which grew out of the 1940s “classic period”, are still alive today, thanks to some creative directors.
To clear up any misconceptions, neo-noir is contemporary film noir, with updated themes and content, but they have the same dark aesthetic. Without further rambling, let’s take a look at some of the best neo-noir movies since the turn of the century.
Insomnia, (a remake of the Scandinavian film of the same name) is a good place to start when talking about neo-noir. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes dark crime films about homicide detectives. Al Pacino plays Detective Will Dormer, a veteran cop who is sent to Alaska to investigate the murder of a teenage girl.
It’s a role Pacino can do in his sleep at this point, though his character doesn’t do a whole lot of it, as he suffers from insomnia. Robin Williams gives a sinister performance as the antagonist Walter Finch, who develops an unusual relationship with Dormer.
This is a Christopher Nolan movie, his simplest to date. There’s no dream-within-a-dream, like in Inception or a nonlinear narrative as in The Prestige. It’s a police procedural. That’s it. But it’s very gripping, well acted and excellently shot.
Shutter Island (2010)
There are four or five films before The Revenant, that Leonardo DiCaprio deservedly should have won an Oscar for – Shutter Island is one. He plays a US Marshall who is investigating the disappearance of a patient at a psychiatric hospital. It’s classic film noir wrapped up in a modern style.
It’s set in the 1950s so it plays out like a classic film noir would, with two detectives involved in a mystery. The film is very aware of the fact that it’s harking back to classic noir, as can be seen by the good and bad motif, which is central to the narrative. It is a great film and worth seeing twice.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is one of the darkest films out there, regardless of it being part of the neo noir world in general. It’s a strange but ingenious film with Daniel Craig playing Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who is tasked with finding out what happened to a woman who disappeared 40 years prior.
Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a young computer hacker joins Martin in the investigation. It’s directed by David Fincher, so like Seven, it involves a serial killer and lots of uncertainty. Although it’s brutal, it has great characters built around a complex plot and the end result is captivating.
Nightcrawler is a spine-chiller, serving as both a straight thriller and a neo-noir. It’s not as clear as a throwback, like the other entries on this list, but it does make for an excellent modern day LA neo-noir and it’s a quality film in general. With Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a freelance journo who sells his recordings of grisly crimes to a news station, the film critiques the relationship between the media and consumer demand.
There’s a lot of dark comedy and off-beat humour. At heart, it’s is about a guy who takes his job too far to the point where it destroys his humanity. The focus is always on Lou Bloom: a sociopathic vigilante that gets more out of control as the story wears on, but we root for him all the way.
The Nice Guys (2016)
If you need some comedy amidst the darkness, then The Nice Guys is a must-see. I have a lot of love for this movie, which is a mash-up of buddy comedy and neo-noir action. It has all the ingredients for a nerve-wracking mystery, but it just happens to have a mismatched pair of detectives, who scuzzy around trying to crack the case involving the death of a porn star and a missing girl.
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe play the leads and they’re completely on the money with their performances. If you like weird dialogue and strange, comical situations, you’re in the right place. Channelling that 1970s LA vibe, it’s quite different to a lot of modern films these days. Watch it and you’ll get something unique.
You don’t necessarily have to agree with this list, as it’s my personal opinion, but hey, I’m all ears for disagreements. But all these films received rave reviews from critics when they were released. Of course, there are many more great neo-noir films, but for efficiency sake, I’ve listed a strong five.
So, what do you think of the list? What’s your favourite neo-noir/crime film? Let me know in the comment section!