22 June 2008


Neo noir is not so much a genre but a recognisable visual style that has been adopted by many contemporary film makers. The tradition of noir as an aesthetic and ideological set of principles is still discernible in the work of auteurs like David Lynch, David Fincher and Michael Mann. Unlike film noir that was very much a response to post war disillusionment and can be categorised into distinct phases, neo noir is much more difficult to isolate as a body of films as they have not been produced within a certain period of time. Neo noir continues to evolve. Though the 1960s and 70s provide us with some telling illustrations of neo noir, giving us brutal and violent films like Point Blank, Klute and The Outfit, it was not until the early 80s did the genre gain widespread acceptance and credibility. Blood Simple (The Coen Bros, 1982), Blade Runner (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1982) and Manhunter (Dir. Michael Mann, 1986) were instrumental in bringing about this critical acknowledgement. Today, David Fincher (Seven, The Game, Panic Room, Fight Club, Zodiac), David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive) and Michael Mann (Thief, Manhunter, Heat, Collateral) are some of the most influential mainstream practitioners of the noir tradition. Here are 10 recent neo noir films that I consider to carry some considerable critical and aesthetic value:

BRICK (Dir. Rian Johnson, 2005, US)

A low budget American independent film that was compared to Donnie Darko for it’s original treatment of teenagers, Brick is both a homage to the detective narrative of the 1940s and a contemporary updating of the high school teen movie. Clever, insightful and very, very noir.

LOST HIGHWAY (Dir. David Lynch, 2007, US)

Another totally baffling and manipulative narrative from the twisted imagination of David Lynch, Lost Highway is one of his major works, but is a film that requires an endless amount of patience. Brilliantly conceived, this is a work of esoteric darkness that really does live up to the nightmarish tone in which it is described by fans.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS (Dir. Bryan Singer, 1995, US)

A magnificently written script by Chris McQuarrie, Kevin Spacey at the top of his game and the storming of Cannes easily makes this Singer’s best film to date. Structured around a series of subjective flashbacks, this was a film that suddenly made noir look sexy again.

COLLATERAL (Dir. Michael Mann, 2004, US)

One of the great post 2000 American films and also by far one of the best neo noir films ever made. Vincent (Tom Cruise) and Max (Jamie Fox) loathe one another but they also appear to exist as outsiders adrift in the lonely nightscape of Los Angeles. Exquisitely shot in HD, this is Mann’s elegy to a city that has dominated much of his work.

MEMENTO (Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2000, US)

Nolan’s ‘mind fuck’ movie as it referred to by some fans and critics was the calling card for his shift into the mainstream. Batman Begins, Insomnia, and The Prestige could easily be labelled as neo noir, but it is Memento that showcases his love of the language of noir. A deeply moving piece of cinema with a genuinely original central concept that is executed with some real confidence.

THE UNDERNEATH (Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 1995, US)

Soderbergh’s remake of the classic 1940s Robert Siodmak directed noir, Criss Cross, was initially dismissed by critics but his recent body of work has meant a reassessment of his early work. Though this is very conventional in how it uses the elements of noir especially in it’s depiction of the femme fatale, Soderbergh experiments with impressive editing to create a disturbing homage to noir.

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (Dir. Curtis Hanson, 1997, US)

More of a pastiche of the best noir films than something entirely original, Curtis Hanson’s tribute to the crime genre made obvious but aesthetically pleasing uses of noir. A film that was able to bring to life the seediness of Los Angeles in the 1930s.

SEVEN (Dir. David Fincher, 1995, US)

Though Fincher has evolved into one of the finest directors working in Hollywood today, Seven is still regarded by many as the film that cemented Fincher’s commercial appeal in the eyes of the studios. Characterised by one of the cleverest endings, Seven amounts to a modern masterpiece.

U TURN (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1997, US)

Oliver Stone’s singular foray into noir territory resulted in one of the most visually exciting contributions to the genre. Though a wickedly funny performance by Sean Penn and a great score by Morricone still could not stop U Turn from failing at the box office.

SIN CITY (Dir. Robert Rodriquez, 2005, US)

Robert Rodriguez’s talents as a film maker seemed to have stalled with the Spy Kids franchise until he collaborated with Frank Miller on this brilliant comic adaptation of his famous graphic novels. Intelligently cast and taking a multi narrative approach, Sin City made evocative use of green screen technology like no other film before.


  1. this is what we call a great list

  2. I guess you could also have included David Lynch's Mullholand Dr. in this list....

  3. Mullholland drive is one of the best neo-noir film

  4. Great list, I am studying Film Noir for my dissertation. I hate to be the nit picky one, but LA Confidential was not set in the 30s, it was set in 1953-4. I only know because I love the film (and the book) more than life it's self! Other than that though, totally agree with your post!

  5. You should watch The Friends of Eddie Coyle(1973), according to me the best neo-noir film of all time.