Thursday, November 7, 2019

30 Days Has Noirvember: Jay Stringer

The Way of the Gun - Christopher McQuarrie 

“You have too much faith in people.”
“How can you kidnap someone without it?”

The Way of the Gun is a mixed up, angry little noir movie. It hides things that don’t need hidden. It rebels against the viewer. It spends much of the running time telling you not to like it. But at the same time, it’s a film that trusts the viewer implicitly. You are allowed to figure things out and make connections yourself. As I get older, I realize this movie cuts right to the heart of how I see crime fiction. It’s a story about trust, about having faith in people, and about how hard the world makes it to hold onto that faith.

Set it Off - F. Gary Gray

We could waste whole hours debating the crossover between heist and noir. But why? It’s a story about real people, trapped in an unwinnable situation, who manage to steal a little bit of fate’s victory before (mostly) going down hard. The characters are dehumanized by society, but find some faith and trust in each other, until that, too, starts to fail them. And the shared moment at the end between John C. McGinley and Jada Pinkett? Don’t tell me that doesn’t underline my whole faith/trust argument.

Judas Kiss - Sebastián Gutiérrez

“When they asked Jim Thompson where he came up with all those twisted plots, he said there’s only ever been one plot.”
“You can’t always get what you want?”
“Nothing is what it seems.”

Judas Kiss represents a whole sub-genre of crime movie that I love. It’s full of things that don’t quite work, with characters who talk way too much, and a plot that exists more in theory than in practice. Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson can’t pull off the accents, but Carla Gugino always saves all things. And, again, it’s a crime film about finding someone to show a little trust in. Is it noir? It quotes Jim Thompson, what do you want from me?

The Sadist - James Landis

I’m now going to ignore everything I’ve said so far, because there’s no heart or deceny on show in The Sadist, but I couldn’t write this list without including it. Bad things happen to normal people for no reason. The Charlie Starkweather killings may have inspired films that have received more acclaim than this, but none of them capture the horror better. Arch Hall Jr. is scary as hell here, and once you’ve seen it, you’ll never drink a bottle of coke without breaking out in a panic.

La Cérémonie - Claude Chabrol

Take the darkness at the heart of The Sadist, feed it with some alienation, give it a dose of lesbian subtext, and use it all to show a Marxist uprising disguised as a noir movie. In French. The film is based on a Ruth Rendell novel that was more of a thriller than a noir, with a clear moral message and the idea that transgressors will face justice. La Cérémonie plays more with the idea of cosmic justice than that of the legal variety, and gives you the room to decide who to side with, and who deserves their fate. It’s a Rorschach test of a movie.

Mean Guns - Albert Pyun 

“I told you. Don’t hold the knife. Throw the fucking knife.”

Every list needs to contain something that shouldn’t be on the list. Why does Mean Guns exist? Well, why do any of us exist? It’s a mashup of so many 90’s ideas. A needless color filter, fast dialogue, dancing hitmen, and Christopher Lambert’s peroxide phase. Guns. So many guns. I’m not saying this is a good film. I’m not saying it’s noir. I’m not even saying it’s worth watching. I’m saying this is a list of movies I’ve seen.

Jay Stringer is the author of several novels including Ways to Die in Glasgow and How to Kill Friends and Implicate People. His latest book is Marah Chase and the Conqueror's Tomb. You can hear him co-host the Crime Friction podcast or, if you so choose, you can follow him on Twitter @JayStringer.

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