Here we go again. Everyone line up as we get ready to board the 2014 train for another trip down my own personal memory lane of favorite films noir from 1970 to the present. As I’m sure you all know, I’ve done a list of pre-1970 noirs which included such classics as Out Of The Past, Night And The City, and Raw Deal. Now we lurch forward into the more recent past, looking for those films that helped redefine the genre.
Again, they’re in no particular order. He-e-e-e-ere we go.
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973) / Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle. Director: Peter Yates. This powerful tale of a small-time street guy (Mitchum) facing a prison sentence is the flip side of The Godfather. Shot entirely in the Boston area in the most nondescript locations, totally deglamorizing the criminal life. Dreary autumn scenery adds to the proceedings rather than subtracting from them. Characters kiss their wives goodbye in the morning and then go to “work”, in other words, they hang around grimy coffee shops and bars and parking lots talking endlessly to each other. Based on a novel by George V Higgins, whose ear for dialogue has never been matched (not even by Higgins himself in subsequent books). Director Yates wisely lifted most of the novel’s dialogue verbatim. Without question, this was Mitchum’s finest hour. His muscular performance of a working-stiff street criminal stays with you forever. One of the greatest noirs of all time.
GO FOR SISTERS (2013) / LisaGay Hamilton, Edward James Olmos, Yolonda Ross. Director: John Sayles. Ross is a ghetto druggie just out of jail, Hamilton her probation officer. Childhood-friends-gone-in-different-directions story is remade with new urgency by Sayles in this riveting drama. Hamilton’s son has fallen in with the wrong crowd and disappeared, causing her to ask Ross for help. Ross brings in Olmos, a former cop who was thrown off the force, and together the three of them head to Tijuana to find Hamilton’s son. First-rate characterizations by the three leads, all of whom are emotionally invested in their roles. Sayles’ Tijuana is grimy, dangerous, and unforgettable. Easily his best film since 1987’s Matewan.
SEXY BEAST (2000) / Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane. Director: Jonathan Glazer. Winstone is a world-class safecracker living the quiet life of retirement in Spain. He lays out in the sun, sips cool drinks with his friends, and loves up his woman. One day, however, Kingsley shows up on behalf of British crime boss McShane, trying to lure Winstone into one more job. Kingsley’s character is a violent sociopath, and his menacing presence throws everything off-kilter. Glazer’s debut feature is a knockout, as he extracts top performances from these three great actors. Winstone is properly nervous throughout, and after watching Kingsley swagger around in his short-sleeved shirts, it’s hard to believe he once played Gandhi!
ACROSS 110th STREET (1972) / Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, Anthony Franciosa. Director: Barry Shear. Three men rob a numbers bank in Harlem and it’s only a question of who gets to them first, the cops or the mob. Not the cops and robbers movie it appears to be, rather a compelling, noir-drenched tale of desperate men, each driven by different forces. Quinn is the aging tough-guy cop who has outlived his time, Franciosa the Mafia enforcer called upon to retrieve the money and teach the robbers a real lesson, while the stickup men just wanted a little money to better their own lives. Film looks like it started off in producer meetings as blaxploitation, but with the addition of Quinn and Franciosa, quickly superseded that genre. Director Shear shows a real feel for the material. Title song by Bobby Womack is memorable.
THE GRIFTERS (1990) / John Cusack, Angelica Huston, Annette Bening, Pat Hingle. Director: Stephen Frears. One of the best of the post-1970 noirs. Tense tale of small-time swindlers and their tangled relationships. Cusack is satisfied with making a few bucks a day on short cons until he meets up with sexy Bening, who has big things cooking. Complicating matters is Cusack’s mother, played with relish by Huston. She works for racketeer Hingle and struts around like she means business, inserting herself between Cusack and Bening at every opportunity. Penetrating look at the underbelly world of the con artist. Donald E Westlake’s script closely follows Jim Thompson’s 1963 novel. Harrowing finale comes out of nowhere.
CITY OF INDUSTRY (1997) / Harvey Keitel, Stephen Dorff, Timothy Hutton. Director: John Irvin. Retired thief Keitel returns for one last score with his brother (Hutton) and getaway driver Dorff. Things go very wrong, and Keitel heads for LA looking for those responsible. Director Irvin provides plenty of sweaty scenes in this hard noir tale. His sense of pacing keeps things moving and lets the viewer know that no matter what happens, no good is going to come from any of it. One of Famke Janssen’s early films. Elliot Gould appears unbilled.
AFTER DARK, MY SWEET (1990) / Jason Patric, Bruce Dern, Rachel Ward. Director: James Foley. Patric escapes from a mental hospital and falls in with Ward. Enter Dern, who urges them to pull a high-profile kidnapping job. Classic noir tale of a guy who’s in way over his head. Set in a California desert town, where no one knows anyone and no one cares. Moody, dark film, even though much of it was shot in blinding sunlight. Patric and Ward are perfect for each other. Dern is remarkably restrained. Based on the 1955 novel by Jim Thompson.
THE LAST SEDUCTION (1994) / Linda Fiorentino, Peter Berg, Bill Pullman. Director: John Dahl. Fiorentino rips off her drug dealer husband Pullman to the tune of $700,000 and all hell breaks loose. She flees to a Buffalo suburb, of all places, and attempts to melt into society unnoticed. Pullman, however, is in hot pursuit. She eventually hooks up with Berg, and supposedly becomes involved in a murder plot. Plenty of twists in this one as the walls begin to close in on Fiorentino. Sharp direction and grade A performances make this an outstanding 1990s film noir.
THIEF (1981) / James Caan, Tuesday Weld, James Belushi, Robert Prosky. Director: Michael Mann. Early Mann effort centers around Caan as longtime jewel thief who wants to start a family with Weld. Unfortunately, however, he falls in with Prosky, who forces him into a big job with big promises of milk and honey on the other side. Needless to say, things don’t go exactly as planned. Everything about this one is noir to the max. Story probes deeply into the mindset of a professional thief, with great attention to detail and the tools of the trade. Outstanding score by Tangerine Dream. Film marks the debuts of Belushi, Prosky, Dennis Farina, and William Petersen. Caan carries the film in fine fashion.
HOUSE OF GAMES (1987) / Lindsay Crouse, Joe Mantegna, JT Walsh. Director: David Mamet. Psychologist specializing in addictive personalities gets drawn into the personal problems of one of her patients, a compulsive gambler. What follows is a nightmare trek into the demimonde of the grifter. Mamet’s directorial debut. He also wrote the screenplay, but the cast brings his difficult, unorthodox dialogue to life. Performances are top-notch, with Mantegna a standout. Look for William H Macy in a small role.