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Starring Jack Nicholson as Los Angeles private eye J.J. “Jake” Gittes, Chinatown is a story of endemic corruption and abuse of power from some of the cities most notable figures. Jake investigates what he believes to be an infidelity case but discovers a much darker plot with more frightening possibilities.
Faye Dunaway plays Mrs Mulwray – Chinatown’s femme fatale. She embodies some key characteristics of the narrative trope and her performance is flawless. She bounces well off Jack Nicholson’s Jake and Chinatown is a well-executed film noir.
The narrative follows a private detective called Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) in Anderson’s latest movie Inherent Vice. Larry lives his life under the heady influence of marijuana smoke and the confused and muddled narrative reflects the effects of the drug.
Paul Thomas Anderson is fast becoming one of the better directors working in Hollywood and his latest film is both baffling and intriguing. There are no clear answers in Larry’s world and audiences will be left with a similar impression of the film itself.
This is a classic film in the noir genre and it has similarities to Stone’s Savages. The narrative unfolds with the use of flashbacks and it utilises perhaps more niche storytelling devices to articulate its dark, corrupt, and LA set tale.
The plot follows an insurance salesman who is talked into committing fraud and the ensuing chaos that the action brings. This is firmly a noir piece, the story takes place in California, and Savages can certainly trace its lineage back to Wilder’s epic.
Joseph Gordon Levitt stars as a teenaged private eye in Rian Johnson’s Brick. Playing the role of Bredan Frye, Levitt delivers clipped lines reminiscent of noir storytelling but set in a contemporary high school.
It’s an unusual take on a tried formula and this neo noir is classy, slick, and much wiser than the setting would suggest. Murder, drugs, and a dangerous criminal mastermind are just dangers of the job and Brendan takes it all in his inquisitive stride.
Californian Noir is a particular sub genre but there are many films that use the format to tell their stories. Let’s consider a few more films similar to Savages that are set within the same sort of seedy world of gangsters, violence and sunny skies.
A story of a trio of hapless bodybuilders, Pain and Gain is a surprisingly good (and original) film to come from Michael Bay. It’s a departure from his usual blockbuster fare and it’s dark, funny, and at times witty.
Ryan Gosling stars in Drive and his character is a movie stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for hire at night. It’s a postmodern movie and it actually reads quite like a Western – the car being an updated version of the horse.
But it’s a film that also has a distinctive noir twist and the driver speaks in monosyllabic sentences and the lighting used is evocative of the genre too.
A dramatized account of the lives of the Z-Boys skate team, Lords of Dogtown is a distinctly Californian tale of surfers, waves, and skateboards. Not quite a noir piece but one with a similar tone to Savages, Lords of Dogtown is cool, touching, and vibrant.
Californian Noir is a genre that uses its composition to contrast the brightly lit settings with the lives of the criminals living there. I think it’s a great sub genre and if I was to provide one recommendation from this list I would suggest watching Inherent Vice.It’s a film that some may find frustrating but its narrative is intricate, textured, and hallucinatory and well worth experiencing.Let me know your thoughts with a comment below.