film noir

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

This movie is just as entertaining and smartass as its title suggests. Penned and directed by Shane Black, who did The Nice Guys, another highly entertaining buddy/neo-noir comedy from last year, it similarly dances on the right side of knowing and snarky, and features another odd couple and much riffing on the noir detective tropes. It’s also a sign of being on the other side of 35 that this movie turned out to be twice as old as I thought it was. I could swear it was maybe six years old, but nope it was released in 2005.

The movie’s narrator, Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), is a small-time crook turned accidental actor, after he happens to literally run into an audition while being chased by the police. This leads him to the bad, mad world of Hollywood, where he’s told to team up with the tough-guy private detective Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), also known as Gay Perry, who is supposed to help him prepare for his screen test. Harry also runs into his childhood sweetheart Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), in town to, gasp shock, chase the movie star dream. One night, as Harry follows Perry on an assignment, they land in a middle of a lurid Chandler-esque murder mystery – a dead body of a young woman which later turns up in Harry’s own apartment. In another plot thread, Harmony begs Harry to help investigate the mystery of her sister’s apparent suicide, after mistaking him for a real deal detective.

It’s just as well that I didn’t watch the movie at the cinema, because it moves fast and I lost the track of the labyrinthine plot on a few occasions, even though it all comes together and makes sense in the end. Also,¬†Robert Downey Jr. might possess preternatural onscreen charisma, but clear diction is not his strongest suit. Somebody, get him a Professor Higgins! Even with the benefit of the subtitles, the plot developments, snappy dialogue, one-liners and visual gags rush at the viewer at a breakneck speed with barely time to digest it all, which, on the plus side, I suspect makes the film all the more rewatchable.

And, despite a few huh wait what moments, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a total blast and pleasure to watch, funny, cleverly written and with fabulous, enthusiastic performances from all three leads. It has cheeky meta fun commenting on noir clich√©s and playing around with the narration, with Harry frequently addressing the audience, “rewinding” the scenes to run through a forgotten detail, lamenting his own poor storytelling skills, admitting a cheap cop-out to the story, and testily reminding that he’s the only narrator we have. The movie is also peppered with zany, wrong-but-hilarious moments you’re unlikely to ever see in your average blockbuster, like Harry’s variation on the Russian roulette that goes spectacularly wrong. It’s a shame that neither this nor The Nice Guys did well at the box-office.

Brick

brick_pic2I think I would have enjoyed this movie much more if the DVD I watched had subtitles. It’s a strange and rather original hybrid of a highschool film and the hardboiled detective noir in the style of Dashiell Hammett, and so everyone speaks in this highly stylized slang I just couldn’t tune into. Language is a funny thing: these days it’s much more natural for me to express myself in English rather than Russian, yet I never ever have to strain to understand Russian speech, whereas I’m still struggling with English-speaking movies at times. As a result, I think I missed out on maybe 60% of the dialogue and had to hop on wikipedia to find out the details of the plot that sailed right over my head.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan, a highschool loner who finds his ex-girlfriend dead soon after receiving a frantic phone call from her. He’s still not over her, so he decides not to involve the cops and solve her murder himself, tracing her movements to the highschool drug ring and cliques he’s always avoided, meeting vampish girls, thuggish boys and an eccentric crime lord. This is all played as a completely straight homage to the classic film noir, without a hint of wink or parody (though it comes close in the scene where the drug lord’s mum serves his son and Brendan cookies and cereal). Because the film is so stylized and in a sense artificial, it’s hard to really care about any of the characters, though Gordon-Levitt’s puppy-eyed vulnerability is quite endearing. The movie was still fun to watch despite my issues with the dialogue and lack of emotional involvement, and as a debut feature, it’s an astonishing display of Johnson’s already-confident visual flair and directorial skills. I really look forward to what he does with his gig directing the next Star Wars movie, if nothing else it’s going to look striking and stylish for sure.

The Nice Guys

the_nice_guys_poster_2_headerThis movie was a nice surprise, a detective buddy comedy that feels fresh mostly because of the stellar work by its two stars (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling), who are not typically associated with the comedy but turn out to have a major, previously untapped talent for it. Throw in a sleazy, noirish 1970s Los Angeles setting, slapstick, sarcasm, raunchy dialogue, darkly humorous and surreal touches, and the results are highly entertaining.

The film starts with a car crash and death of a porn star, who was then glimpsed by her elderly relative walking around alive and well, or so she claims. The old lady hires a private detective Holland March (Gosling), who is something of a loser and an erratic single father to a teenage daughter (who, in the best movie traditions of precocious teenage daughters to hopeless fathers, is sharp as a tack and is the movie’s moral centre, but not obnoxiously so). His investigations lead him to Amelia, a young girl who has gone missing and seems to be tied up with a wrong kind of people, and is a subject of interest to Jackson Healey (Crowe), a detective-slash-enforcer for hire. Crowe’s presence here brings back memories of LA Confidential, another noir classic where he also played a world-weary character with a brutal side – especially when he gets a sort of reunion with Kim Bassinger, appearing here as a politician and the mother of Amelia. After a rocky start involving some physical violence, the two detectives reluctantly agree to team up and get to the bottom of the mystery.

While the story has plenty of twists and turns, the movie’s main pleasures lie in watching the interactions and chemistry of the mismatched duo; Crowe and Gosling are not the actors I would have thought of as a natural pairing, but they work off each other brilliantly. Gosling especially is a comical revelation, and manages to make his screw-up of a character inherently loveable. The movie does a neat job mixing slapstick and one-liners with violence and is full of great this-is-so-wrong-but-so-funny moments. I love me some gallows humour. Something else I always appreciate is a strong sense of place in a film, and here it creates a palpable atmosphere of a sultry, corrupt 70s Los Angeles – probably heightened and exaggerated for the effect but who cares, give me more of those fabulous 70s clothes and awesomely hideous wallpapers.