True Detective, Season 2, First Half (Or, Everyone Relax, it’s Film Noir)

In a vacuum, I’ve been enjoying Season 2 of True Detective.  I’m late to the party in that I have yet to watch Season 1, which everyone assures me is sooooooo goooooooood.  I’ll check it out later.  In any event, I’ve been enjoying Season 2.

The critics have been less than kind, however, as I learned this week when reading their reaction pieces and reviews for the first time.  The endless comparisons to last season aside, the major complaints appear to be cheesy dialogue, dour characters, and a plot that makes no sense.  I agree – but I don’t think these are problems.  Especially since this season is styled as an homage to Film Noir.

Some of the best Film Noir is set in Los Angeles.  The Big Sleep (1946), The Big Heat (1953), Chinatown (1974), Double Indemnity (1944),  L.A. Confidential (1997), and Sunset Boulevard (1950) are all set in the City of Angels.

Now, if you watched any of the aforementioned movies halfway through you would find them filled with cheesy dialogue, dour characters, and plots that make no sense.  Pointing out “criticisms” that merely describe the style of film is not helping anyone.

I reserve the right to revise my opinion if the second half of the season does not wrap everything up in a satisfactory manner.  Until then, relax everyone, it’s Film Noir, not “prestige television drama.”

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

Gone Girl (Review)

Directed by David Fincher, U.S., 2014

The elements that separate film noir from other thrillers are threefold.  Most importantly – dim lighting, which sets the mood and it’s why most classic noir is black and white.  Second, unpredictable plot twists.  Finally, psychological warfare.

A dark, twisting novel like Gone Girl can only be told on film as a noir.  Fortunately, David Fincher understands this.  Unfortunately, this also means the film is prone to noir’s biggest flaw – flat, inconsistent characters.

But do we care?  Like the best noir, Gone Girl grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.  Broad daylight is filmed in a dark haze, conveying an ever-present sense of dread.  Without giving away crucial plot details (surprises are critical to enjoying Gone Girl), the film is a twisted game of cat and mouse, where it’s unclear which character is which animal until the very end.

The somewhat weak characters are also exceptionally well played.  Ben Affleck nails it as the frustratingly inconsistent Nick Dunne.  Between this and his actor/director films, I conclude that it wasn’t Affleck’s lack of talent that sunk his career for time, but his poor choice of roles.  Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tyler Perry also give excellent performances, once again demonstrating Fincher’s talent for working with actors.

Gone Girl is by no means a perfect film or a perfect story.  But like the best film noir, its imperfections can be forgiven if it’s approached not as a story, but as an experience.

You might like Gone Girl if: You enjoyed the novel, or you enjoy film noir in general.

You might not like Gone Girl if: Film noir drives you bonkers.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe