I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

U Turn

Before seeing SAVAGES I wanted to catch up on some of the recent Oliver Stone pictures that I’d skipped. It turns out this one is 15 years old, so you could argue that I’m a little behind on Stone. Do you guys know if JFK is any good? What about PLATOON?

This is his most straight-forward crime genre picture before SAVAGES so I figured it was a good one to check out. Based on the book Stray Dogs by John Ridley (RED TAILS, UNDERCOVER BROTHER), it’s about this dirtbag Bobby (Sean Penn), an ex-tennis player in debt whose fancy-ass car breaks down in the middle of Tiny Desert Town, Hell (actually Superior, Arizona) on his way to delivering a bunch of cash to the guy who cut off some of his fingers, and then things get way worse. But he fucks Jennifer Lopez at least.

The car, he proudly explains, is a 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang, and he has no choice but to leave it with weirdo mechanic Billy Bob Thornton, who is covered in dirt and wearing glasses worse than the ones he wore in A SIMPLE PLAN. This character makes me want to see Billy Bob play a Texas Chain Saw family member.

Lopez’s character is named Grace, but she doesn’t live up to the obvious symbolism the name implies. He sees her on the street and offers to help her with her new drapes. Both literally and… whatever. But after about 12 rounds of torturous teasing he’s finally moving in and a guy walks in. He’s her husband. Worse, he’s Nick Nolte.

Now might be a good time to mention that there’s alot of people in this damn movie. Jon Voight plays a blind homeless Indian. Powers Boothe plays the sheriff. Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix play the silliest characters in the movie (he’s got a pompadour and calls himself “T.N.T.” Coincidentally Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” is played in two of his scenes). Julie Hagerty from AIRPLANE plays a waitress.  Laurie Metcalf from Roseanne sells him a bus ticket. Liv Tyler is behind him in line when he gets the ticket (she doesn’t even have a line). Bo Hopkins is in there somewhere.

And Ennio Morricone did the damn music!

I know Lopez doesn’t exactly have an impeachable body of work. And I could hold it against her that she inadvertently started this whole “wouldn’t it be cute if we abbreviated all the celebrities’ names?” plague when she decided to have a rap name. But when people talk shit about her I always say, “Well, she’s great in OUT OF SIGHT.” Unfortunately, my defense of her doesn’t go much deeper than that. So I’m happy to say I think she’s a successful femme fatale in this one. She’s real good with the manipulation – crying about her mean husband, standing on a ladder and sticking her ass out – oh, I’m sorry, did I give the impression I was trying to seduce you? I’m sorry, it’s all a misunderstanding. Here, let me sit on the bed with my legs innocently spread and my face at your crotch level. She seems capable of WILD THINGS level backstabbing, but she’s already heard Bobby selling her out from the other room before she starts doing the same thing to him. She seems genuinely damaged and therefore a little bit sympathetic. Not bad.

As Jake McKenna Nolte, it should probly go without saying, is not playing a regular dude. He looks slimmer in his face than now (somebody pointed out to me that he looks like an old Ethan Hawke) but he’s HULK level growly and crazy, or kinda like his Gary Busey’s little cameo in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. He first wants to kill Bobby, then wants to hire him to kill Grace – being “a man that has no scruples” he’s the man for the job.

I suspect that alot of Jake’s weirdest moments were Nolte specials. Like, was it in the script that he makes a determination about Bobby by wiping sweat off his face and tasting it? Or that he kisses him on the lips and announces “Now you’ve tasted both of us!” Or that he has an emotional breakdown scene where he cries “Forgive me!” into Jennifer Lopez’s crotch? I’m guessing no. But even if they were then they sure cast the right guy to do that stuff.

The worst luck Bobby has is when he happens to be in a little grocery mart as it’s being robbed, and they take his bag from him. Now, we’ve seen this before, this is a classic noir set up. The bag of loot gets stolen, he has to get it back, right? No, what happens is the shopkeeper nails one of the thieves with a shotgun, it blasts right through the bag of money, ripping the bills to pieces and covering them in gore. You always see people losing their money in movies, but how often do you see the money getting ruined?

This is a horrible little town, dusty and hot with nothing to do, and fuckin T.N.T. always thinks you’re hitting on his girl and tries to fight you. The sheriff picks you up and gives you a ride, pretending to be friendly but actually threatening you, FIRST BLOOD style. He casually drinks while he drives, doesn’t care if you see it. The residents know this place sucks – they dream of getting away. Claire Danes doesn’t even know Bobby but thinks she’s gonna run away with him. Grace has a fantasy of being a bird so she can fly away, be free, and go to Disney World. She tempts the sheriff with fantasies about starting a sporting goods store in Milwaukee. It makes Terence Howard in FIGHTING’s goal of starting an IHOP seem glamorous.

In the town’s defense I must point out that they have vending machines with Dr. Pepper in the glass bottle, and for only twenty-five cents. Also I noticed there’s a video store. So if you have air conditioning, a VCR and a roll of quarters you might be in business.

You know what’s weird, this almost plays like a parody of Sean Penn’s image to the people in the Fox News Belt. He’s an outspoken liberal so they hate him, and it doesn’t help that he often comes off kinda humorless about it. So he can and has been criticized even for something as non-partisan as taking a boat into a flood and rescuing people. Being one of his generation’s greatest actors just makes matters worse, because that’s kinda elitist. Besides, he threatens our way of life, making us have to try to describe why we hated TREE OF LIFE.

Bobby fits into that image because he’s this smug outsider who comes into their small town wearing a fancy suit, looks down on their simple way of life, calls a hard-working mechanic “an ignorant, inbred, tumbleweed hick!” He’s a criminal and, worse, a tennis player. The leisure sport of the super rich, the professional sport of lesbians. The people in the town are cartoons, buffoons, dirty monsters, daughter-rapists – they’re how Sean Penn’s critics think Sean Penn sees them.

This movie might even be the source of Penn’s reputation. They saw this on cable and they mixed it up with their memories of the real person. Sean Penn – isn’t he that guy who keeps rubbing our noses in his 1964 1/2 Mustang? Fuck that guy.

Whatever they shot it on has a real nice looking graininess on my HD tv, looks like my favorite blu-ray transfers of ’70s movies, even though it’s a ’90s movie on DVD. There’s definitely some NATURAL BORN KILLERS style in the filmatism, but toned down to more tolerable levels. It’s not so much the cuts and changes of format and random stock footage greenscreened and all that stupid CRANK shit, it’s the more Sam Raimi type of stuff: dramatic shot from inside the hood of the car with hose exploding in the foreground, extreme closeups of hood ornaments, key chains, signs. A couple times there’s corny shit like dogs barking over a fight scene and a horse sound as Billy Bob scrapes the hood of the car with a crowbar. And my favorite by far: for some reason there’s a crow in the room cawing as Jake doggystyles Grace.

But not too much of that. Lurid and heightened, but not spazzy.

The content itself does get more and more feverish as it goes along. I love that when Bobby and Grace finally get some cash they’ve been scheming to steal they spontaneously start fucking on top of it. This is with both the crow and a dead body still in the room. “Let him watch. I want him to know what he’s missing,” Bobby says. (Not referring to the crow, I don’t think.)

I like the tone. Sleazy noir, not real jokey but with a sense of humor, especially in the Billy Bob scenes. At one point we see him at home, he’s wearing short shorts and a parka playing Twister by himself. I like that every time we see him at work on the car it’s in different stages of being taken apart, always looking like some junker he’s salvaging and not the beautiful treasure it started as. My favorite part is when Bobby’s arguing with him over payment and in the background we see a cardboard sign that says “FOR SALE 1964 1/2 MUSTANG, $16,000.00 O.B.O.” The beautiful part is that Bobby was only supposed to get $13,000 for killing Grace.

In my opinion the one thing holding U TURN back is that Bobby is such a douchebag. I know that’s intentional but I think it might be a miscalculation. A story like this works better if you’re really rooting for the anti-hero. A lovable asshole is okay, maybe even preferable, but this is just a regular asshole. He’s not like a Bruce Willis character who you like even though he’s an asshole, he’s the guy you’d root for Bruce Willis to humiliate.

But it’s funny, the guy is so proud of himself with his old car and his pointy collar and everything, and what is it that makes him so awesome? He’s a tennis player. He could be a washed up jazz trumpeter or something, we could dig that, but tennis player? They even have a flashback where he’s wearing the white polo shirt and headband and everything. Then he’s strutting around like DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I WAS GOOD AT TENNIS BEFORE THEY CUT OFF MY FINGERS! Good stuff. I like this movie.


trivia: John Ridley was big on writing his characters as black but never directly stating anything about their race. Then they cast Sean Penn as the lead in this so he started just coming out and saying it.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, August 3rd, 2012 at 3:43 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

61 Responses to “U Turn”

  1. When I used to work at Tower Records there was a co-worker who used to call this “J.Lo gets fucked in the ass by Nick Nolte”. I think this movie is interesting to watch cause it’s like Oliver Stone trying to be Lynchian and that leads to a lot of hilarious stuff.

  2. I saw this back-to-back with Peter Berg’s VERY BAD THINGS on cable one night, and at the time thought that they were both the worst movies I’d ever seen. Even with such a mega cast (in both films, mind you) I just thought it was terrible. I was around 15 at the time, maybe my tastes have changed but even now I tend to trust those initial instincts.

    My favorite Oliver Stone film is WALL STREET, but I also liked JFK. But to you Vern, I’d strongly recommend SALVADOR. It has the kind of political idealism of a JFK, but brought more down to reality (a lot of people have scoffed at the inaccuracies of it, which has made me question it a bit myself despite the huge cast and brilliant performances).

  3. Very Bad Things is excellent.

  4. I really like JFK and Platoon is a well-made Vietnam flick, probably the most Hollywood of the Full Metal Jacket/Apocalypse Now/Deer Hunter mainstay group. Both have big casts, but JFK is longer and is more Natural Born Killers-style to Platoon’s Wall Street. Neither are as bonkers as U-Turn.

  5. Knox Harrington

    August 4th, 2012 at 2:30 am

    This is my ultimate “Oh, you think YOU’RE having a bad day?” movie. Cheers me right up.

    And I love Nolte in it. There are a few actors whose films I will watch no matter what, just because they’re in it, and Nolte’s at the top of that list (with Woody Harrelson a close second). I think it all started for me in the late 90’s, when Nolte had this amazing run (The Thin Red Line, Affliction, U Turn, Nightwatch). I’ve been an official fan ever since (also, check out The Good Thief, if you happen to be both a Nolte and Jean-Pierre Melville kinda guy).

    Funny, I watched Platoon just last night. Been on a bit of a Stone high since watching that Savages trailer. I’m a sucker for a good commentary track, and since a pal of mine worships the guy, he recommended a few good Stone tracks. He’s a damn good commentator. Not quite Michael Mann good (who I still hail as the King of the Director’s Commentary), but very insightful. Listening to the Natural Born Killers track, it becomes clear how much he loves his eccentric brand of symbolism. You can see it in U Turn as well.

    Have to rewatch Nixon some time, but that one seems a bit daunting.

  6. Knox Harrington

    August 4th, 2012 at 2:32 am

    Nolte’s in the new PARKER movie? With Jennifer Lopez?

    I’m in.

  7. back and to the left

  8. Darth Irritable

    August 4th, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Didn’t Sean Penn throw a tantrum about this movie, once he realized he looked like KD Lang?

  9. So, Knoc, as a true Nolte fan, did you watch him as a gorilla in Zookeeper? Now there’s one that will test your loyalties!

  10. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    August 4th, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Nice write-up. I’ve loved this since I saw it when it played theatrically here in Norway when I was 12-13. Time for another viewing, methinks. I have no idea what Nick Nolte cameo in FEAR AND LOATHING you’re referring to. Mybe you’re thinking of Gary Busey?

  11. Man, the nineties had some great neo-noir: Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, L.A. Confidential, Red Rock West, The Usual Suspects, Miller’s Crossing, The Grifters, Way of the Gun. The list just goes on and on. Film noir may in fact be my favorite genre of all time. We could use a real resurgence now. All of the above films seemed to have a unique spin on some old favorites, but these days it seems (and I’m over generalizing here) that directors don’t know where to take the genre.

  12. I second the Very Bad Things love. Never seen U-Turn but shall have to check it out.

  13. The Original... Paul

    August 4th, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Good review, but I wish you’d dedicated a bit more of it to Billy Bob’s character. One of my all-time favorite unredeemed villains. This guy scared the shit out of me in a way I normally don’t get scared when it comes to movies (it may not have helped that when I first saw this movie, I’d just bought my first car.)

    RBatty – As somebody who also loves film noir, I think we got ourselves a failure to communicate… I’d more associate “film noir” with the classic Bogart films of the 30s and 40s than “Jackie Brown” or “Usual Suspects”. And there’s no way on earth that I could call “Pulp Fiction” film noir. If I had to pigeonhole it I’d say it was a cross between a chase movie, a blaxploitation movie, and a gangster epic. Nothing “noir” about it.

  14. This is a good movie with a number of good performances. I agree with Vern that it is probably J-Lo’s best film behind OUT OF SIGHT, and she is smoking hot in it. However, some of her hotness is nullified by having to witness her getting manhandled by gnarly old Nick Nolte.

    Funny story, I saw this in the theater when it was first released. I think it came out in the fall or winter because it was pretty cold and nasty out. Since my girlfriend worked at the theater she would get me and my friends in for free but we had to get there early and she would let us into the theater before they opened it to the general public for seating of the next showing. This meant that we spent a lot of time people watching as the audience would trickle in. While waiting for U-TURN to start a small little guy came in wearing a big parka jacket and homemade cut off daisy dukes shorts (just like Billy Bob when he is at home playing Twister). This caught me and my fiends attention, because it was so cold and wet out that not only where his shorts arguably gender inappropriate but they were most definitely inappropriate for the time of year and weather. What made it so funny was he was wearing a heavy jacket so he acknowledged how cold out it was, but he was not going to let that stop him from wearing his cut off shorts. Then not to long after daisy dukes had found a seat a guy showed up who recognized him then sat down by Mr. cutoffs with one empty seat in-between them. They chatted for a while before a third guy showed up that seemed to know both daisy dukes and his friend. There were still so few people in the theater at that point that we could clearly hear their conversation. The man that just arrived asked daisy dukes why he and his friend where sitting by each other with an empty seat in-between them, to which daisy dukes replied with a straight face and not a drop of irony, “we don’t want to look gay, or anything”. I guess he didn’t think of that before he left the house in those shorts.

  15. Shit. Zookeeper and that goddamn Cats and Dogs movie. Maybe I’ll create a little loophole to my rule and just decide that voice-work doesn’t count.

    Gotta agree with RBatty that noir is in trouble. There just doesn’t seem to be any place for it in modern Hollywood. Even the modern films that take place during the gangster period of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, films like Public Enemies and the upcoming Gangster Squad and Lawless, are more action movies than noir.

    I reckon if someone could make a good period-based heist film with some strong noir elements, something like The Killing, then maybe there could be a return. But you have to get audiences back to liking that kinda thing. Kinda tough when the teens rule the box office.

  16. Paul, I think you misread RBatty024, he said “neo-noir”. You are right that the Bogart films of the 30’s and 40’s are classic noir, but PULP FICTION & JACKIE BROWN are “neo-noir”. I am curious what elements are missing from PULP FICTION that prevent you from considering it film noir?

  17. Knox, BRICK is a great noir film with a teen cast.

  18. THE BIG SLEEP is the ultimate film noir and probably in my top 5 favourite films of all time. Intricate,yet extremely entertaining and with witty dialogue. My favourite Howard Hawks!

    THE MALTESE FALCON comes a close second. Not much from the book is left out, although the novel itself is not very thick.

    I wish somebody would make a faithful adaptation of Hammets RED HARVEST. Has there ever been any?

  19. Whoops – it reminded me of Busey kissing him in FEAR AND LOATHING so my brain decided it was Nolte in that role. Thanks for the correction.

  20. Knox Harrington

    August 4th, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Yeah, Brick is great. Probably the best we’re gonna get for quite some time.

  21. Best noir in the last ten years (at least on TV) came from the first season of Veronica Mars.

  22. The Original... Paul

    August 4th, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Charles – I’ve never heard the term “neo-noir”. And I’m at a total loss to see what elements are at all similar in “Pulp Fiction” to any of the 30s and 40s noir mentioned here. Can you imagine Howard Hawks casting himself in a role with about seven lines of dialogue, TWO of which are “Do you see a sign outside that says dead nigger storage?” Can you see Bogey walking into a joint with a wallet that says “Bad motherfucker” on it? Classic film noir almost always contained a strong element of mystery, or at least characters who could not be trusted by the audience as well as their fellow characters. What character in “Pulp Fiction” fits this description? Film noir usually kept to a very strict chronological timescale – would this describe “Pulp Fiction”?

    But to go to what’s really the essence of noir: film noir, even the later “coloured” versions (which technically are not film noir at all, but the term is applied much more loosely nowadays than it used to be so let’s ignore that for the minute), tended to make use of a lot of darkness and shadows. Name me one scene in “Pulp Fiction” – just one – that does this? Tarantino used camera angles, especially “point of view” shots, to frame his shots in such a way that a point of emphasis is clearly established (hence Marcellus Wallace walking across the road in front of Bruce Willis’ car, as seen through the windshield from Willis’ point of view; Marcellus and Bruce waking up to Zed and Maynard, shot from the point of view of a man tied to a chair; the back-view of Marcellus’ head, complete with adhesive plaster on the back; etc). This is pretty much the exact opposite of, say, the technique used in the “Third Man” with Orson Welles’ shadow on the side of the buildings.

    Better question than yours is, why WOULD I consider it film noir? I mean, beyond the fact that it features gangsters and drugs and a Maltese Falcon-esque macguffin in the forum of a suitcase with a lamp inside it? Should I consider “The Dark Knight” film noir for the same reason? How about “Kill List”? They seem to feature more in common with classic noir than “Pulp Fiction” does, at least visually.

    I do agree about Veronica Mars though. I know Vern wasn’t a big fan of “Brick”, but I thought it was great.

  23. Paul, I think part of the confusion is that I should have phrased my question as “I am curious what elements are missing from PULP FICTION that prevent you from considering it A NOIR FILM?” I know that the term “film noir” is based in black and white visuals, low lighting, use of shadows, and unbalanced compositions, but it also encompasses a style of pulpy crime stories full of violence, betrayal, and characters with unclear motives. Neo-noir are color films that are influenced by the classic noir films and feature similar stories, characters, and themes. CHINATOWN, BRICK, & PULP FICTION are all neo-noir.

  24. I’d call BOUND noir, though maybe it’s neonoir. There was also a modern noir film in the 90s called TWILIGHT with Paul Newman, Hackman, Sarandon and Witherspoon. It’s terrible though, boring waste of many talents. You might know it as the one where Reese Witherspoon goes topless.

  25. Off topic – Vern quoted in the photo caption in the latest review on filmfreakcentral.

    http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/ffc/2012/08/celeste-and-jesse-forever.html

    Love it.

  26. Vern have you seen Red Rock West? the plot is similar to this one, but i think its a much better film, and it has Cage.
    Jennifer is also very hot and very good in Blood and wine, another neo noir.

  27. Knox Harrington

    August 5th, 2012 at 4:57 am

    Wait, you’ve never heard of the term “neo-noir”, Paul? And you think the word “noir’ in Film Noir refers to the black-and-white photography?

    You’re not also one of those people who think that “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” means “Where’s Romeo?”, are you?

  28. The Original... Paul

    August 5th, 2012 at 6:04 am

    Charles – “But it also encompasses a style of pulpy crime stories full of violence, betrayal, and characters with unclear motives.” Exactly my point. Pulp Fiction has none of those, except the violence (which is usually portrayed in a way that it’s used for shock humour, which is completely atypical for classic film noir.) “Brick” and “Chinatown” contain those elements (both are murder mysteries). “Pulp Fiction” does not. There’s nothing ambiguous about any of the characters – if there was, the story wouldn’t work.

    Knox – I think we’re arguing over definitions here. “Noir” has changed its meaning over time. It used to refer only to “film noir”, which is a very specific style of black-and-white cinema that usually played before the “main feature” in movie theatres in America. “Film noir” didn’t become mainstream until it had been more widely established, and it was then that the definition of “noir” was expanded to include films that weren’t technically “film noir” but included many elements of that canon of work. When they first came out, most “film noir” were B-movies. They were regarded in pretty much the same way as straight-to-DVD movies are regarded today.

    Maybe I phrased it badly in my last post, so I’ll clarify: I’m not saying that the word “noir” only refers to black-and-white cinema. I’m saying that if you’re referring strictly to a canon of “film noir”, it won’t have any colour movies in it. There are movies that share many of the themes and techniques used by the 30s and 40s movies that constitute most classic film noir, and they’re referred to as “noir” because of it. But they’re not “film noir” – they come from the wrong period. “Brick” definitely shares many elements commonly associated with “film noir”, but it isn’t that. Call it “neo-noir” or “noir-ish” or whatever, if the shoe fits. It’s just part of the body of work that constitutes “film noir”.

    Calling “Brick” film noir is like calling a Mills & Boon novel a “classic romantic novel”. Yeah, it has romance in it. But it’s not Jane Austen, y’dig? And if you refer to the “golden age” of murder mysteries, you don’t also include work by modern crime novelists just because their novels happen to stick to the same basic “rules” as the 1920s – 1940s murder mystery novels did.

  29. The Original... Paul

    August 5th, 2012 at 6:08 am

    Second to last paragraph, last sentence – It’s just NOT part of the body of work that constitutes “film noir”.

    Trying to separate “film noir” from “noir” is bad enough with that kind of confusion.

    TL:DR version: “Film noir” refers to a specific canon of black-and-white work, mostly B-movies, mostly from the 30s and 40s. “Noir” can mean anything that follows similar thematic and stylistic choices as “film noir” originally did. This is why “Chinatown” is “noir” but it’s not “film noir”. At least as I understand the terms.

  30. This entire noir conversation reminds me of Derrida’s essay “Law of Genre” where he dismantles the idea of static generic forms. Obviously categories of film are useful for discussing and analyzing them, but they’re not hard and fast rules. This is especially true of film noir. When people started to make the first films that would be called film noir, the term didn’t even exist yet. The term film noir was first used to describe a particular kind of American crime film in 1946, but The Maltese Falcon is often cited as the first instance of a true film noir, and it came out way back in 1941. What’s more, the first lengthy academic study of film noir, A Panorama of American Film Noir, didn’t come out until the 1950s. This is the first time that someone tried to actually come up with a clear definition of film noir. In fact, no one who made film noir movies in the 1940s even referred to them by that name. Now, this doesn’t mean that a bunch of films in the 40s and 50s didn’t have shared themes, visuals, and plots. It just means that as a genre film noir was difficult to define from the beginning.

    As far as Pulp Fiction goes, I can point to several film noir elements. Just the fact that we are immersed in a criminal world is a position that begins with the film noir. One of the most obvious examples is The Asphalt Jungle. In addition, the glowing suitcase is taken almost exactly from Kiss Me Deadly, which some consider the last classic film noir. There’s also Bruce Willis’s character, the washed up boxer. That’s an archetype deeply rooted in film noir. Here the most obvious touchstone is The Set Up. Pulp Fiction is not only borrowing from film noir, but it is heavily in debt to those films.

  31. Knox Harrington

    August 5th, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Gotta disagree with you there, Paul. I don’t think the “noir” in Film Noir has ever refered to the black-and-white photography, but rather to the dark (i.e. black) tone, atmosphere and nature of the stories. It’s a genre. Colour can’t define a genre.

    Anyway, you’re right. We’re arguing over definitions, which is an absolute waste of time.

    You might have a point about Pulp Fiction, though. I’ve never really considered it Noir (or whatever). It kinda plays with some of the ideas and possibilities, but it doesn’t really focus on that kind of tone and story the same way that other, more modern Noir films (like Chinatown or Brick) do.

  32. Knox Harrington

    August 5th, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Also, what RBatty said.

    Have you ever listened to Scorsese’s commentary for The Set-Up? It’s quite good.

  33. I can’t see PULP FICTION as a crime anthology either. It’s not like Mia was a femme fatale who played Vincent for a fool by the end. It’s not even like Bruce Willis and his girl couldn’t end up together due to some plot driven tragedy that won’t allow for a happy ending. It’s not a scenario where somebody who doesn’t stand for corruption has to deal with the fact that corruption rules everything in their world. So I have to agree with Paul here in that I don’t see it either.

  34. *as anything but a crime anthology

  35. The Original... Paul

    August 5th, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Ok, I’ll rephrase myself just once more and let it go: “Film noir” isn’t a style of filmmaking, it’s not a genre of filmmaking, it’s a period of filmmaking. At least, that’s how I’ve always understood it.

    “Noir”, on the other hand, definitely refers to tone and theme to an extent, but it also refers to the techniques used with light (or rather the absence of light), which were fairly new at the time.

    “This is especially true of film noir. When people started to make the first films that would be called film noir, the term didn’t even exist yet. The term film noir was first used to describe a particular kind of American crime film in 1946, but The Maltese Falcon is often cited as the first instance of a true film noir, and it came out way back in 1941.”

    Now that I would agree with, although I’d say rather the first “popular” film noir. There were films that showed many parts of what constitutes “film noir” before “The Maltese Falcon”, but most of them were, again, B-movies. And like any part of any art form, a good many of them were complete rubbish. Thankfully time has a way of ensuring the good gets filtered out from the crap.

  36. The Original... Paul

    August 5th, 2012 at 8:03 am

    “As far as Pulp Fiction goes, I can point to several film noir elements. Just the fact that we are immersed in a criminal world is a position that begins with the film noir. One of the most obvious examples is The Asphalt Jungle. In addition, the glowing suitcase is taken almost exactly from Kiss Me Deadly, which some consider the last classic film noir. There’s also Bruce Willis’s character, the washed up boxer. That’s an archetype deeply rooted in film noir.”

    Now that I’ll give you. Pulp Fiction is heavily in debt to film noir. Thing is, it’s also heavily in debt to such widely varying genres as dance movies, chase movies, buddy comedies, and blaxploitation flicks. Tarantino “borrowed” from pretty much EVERYTHING when he made this movie (and in all fairness, most of his other movies as well).

  37. The Original... Paul

    August 5th, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Also U-Turn is most definitely noir. Hell, change a few characters and it might be an adaptation of Hammett’s “Red Harvest”.

    Sorry Vern, forgot to keep it on-topic.

  38. A lot of similarities between this and John Dahl’s RED ROCK WEST with Nick Cage. He’s another small time hood trapped in a texas town by crooked cops and seductive molls. It’s good. I like John Dahl movies.

  39. Paul — I think this is a situation where the problem isn’t a difference of opinion, but a difference in terminology. I still find noir influences a lot of work out there (whether or not you want to define it as neo noir). I haven’t seen Veronica Mars, but I think that Breaking Bad is also heavily influenced by film noir.

    Knox — I own The Set Up, but for some reason I haven’t listened to the commentary track. That’s something I should take advantage of. What really amazes me about The Set Up is that the entire film is pretty much a single boxing match. That fight must take up at least half of the running time. It is one of the longest action pieces I’ve seen in cinema, and easily the longest I can think of from the 1940s. That film just blew me away.

  40. Fred, I agree that BOUND is a noir film, and a good one at that.

    Paul, I am really not qualified to debate the true definition of “film noir”, and I have no desire to do so. I just think what we consider to be noir and how we define it has evolved over time. However, I still disagree with you about PULP FICTION. I agree that QT was influenced by a number of film genres in crafting PF, but that does not exclude it from being a noir film. The movie is titled PULP FICTION for a reason, it is a tribute to film noir and the type of pulp crime stories that film noir is based on.

  41. Knox Harrington

    August 5th, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Cool. Well, you’ve made your take on the term very clear, Paul. Thanks.

    To me, the words Film Noir has always meant a certain type of film, i.e. a genre. I see no distinction between the terms “Film Noir” and “Noir”. As far as I’m concerned, they mean exactly the same thing.

    Neo-noir, on the other hand, I’ve always seen as referring to more modern films that follow the same themes, atmosphere, situations and character types as the ones explored in Film Noir, but with a different aesthetic twist (for instance, the bright daylight photography in Brick and the colourful “neon” design of Drive). But honestly, these terminological lines we draw all get a bit blurry after a while.

    Anyway, good chat. I’m glad we all love the Noir. High Fives all round.

  42. RBatty, yeah, that film has such a great structure and approach. And Robert Ryan is just brilliant.

    It’s one of those films that I would love to see a remake of, but the moment I think about it I just think “Nah, it would be a fuck-up. Leave it alone.” Kinda like this idea I have to remake High Noon as a single shot film (like Russian Ark and Silent House), but I just know it’ll probably end up a disaster. Besides, who do you replace the great Gary Cooper with? He carries that entire film.

    Hey, I’ve been meaning to check out Somebody Up There Likes Me. It’s another Robert Wise boxing film, starring Paul Newman. Apparently, it set up the blueprint for Rocky.

    Would love to see it, but it’s kinda tough to find.

  43. Just to clarify a few thing about noir- since it was a term coined by the French critics at Cahier du Cinema it was not used during the era when most noirs were made. That period is generally thought to have begun with The Maltese Falcon and ended with Touch of Evil. Neo Noir is just any noir made after the introduction of the term into the English lexicon. In other word, once directors became aware of the concept they were making neo noir. It. Has nothing to do with color vs black and white, daytime vs night or any other element.

  44. Knox Harrington

    August 5th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    So it’s impossible for any film made after 1958 to be considered Film Noir? That’s messed up, man.

    Goddamn French just had to go and fuck up everything.

  45. Knox Harrington

    August 5th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    And isn’t that the same as saying that it’s impossible to make a blaxploitation movie in this day and age, because blaxploitation only belonged to a certain era?

    I don’t want to start using the term neo-blaxploitation.

  46. The Original... Paul

    August 5th, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Knox – speaking personally, I wouldn’t want to use the term neo-anything. After “The Matrix” it just became so… passe.

  47. To me noir just signifies that the film will deal with heavy and dark themes. Usually corruption, manipulation, betrayal, tragedy. Films that rely on noirish tropes seldom have happy endings. It’s not so much an aesthetic as it is something that is emotive. Those stories have a certain bleak feel to them all throughout that is unsettling and seedy.

    It’s easy to see noirish influences in everything from say a superhero movie (BATMAN RETURNS) to a sci-fi one (DARK CITY) but you can’t really classify them as “neo noir” because it’s not like you can interchanged them with say CHINATOWN or anything either. Though they both do have bittersweet or down right unhappy endings and explore the tropes of tragedy and corruption and manipulation etc.

  48. OK, I gotta jump into the noir discussion. Basically, I think TFri has it right. Classic film-noir ends around the TOUCH OF EVIL era. Neo-Noir starts around the time of POINT BLANK. And lets not forget French film-noir like the Melville films. I know a lot of my friends confuse film-noir with the look of German expressionism…. they imagine stuff like CALAGARI. I’ve always considered stuff like Lang’s M to be the birth of film-noir. I know Christopher Nolan is heavily influenced by noir…. the plot mechanisms etc not the look.

  49. so glad someone brought up john dahl. kill me again, red rock west and the last seduction would make a great noir triple feature. i haven’t seen joyride but hear good things about it. rounders is also a bit noir-ish.

    in fact, i think i like all the above mentioned movies more than u turn.

    i’ve also heard comparison between this and duel in the sun, which i haven’t seen. don’t know if that’s valid.

  50. dahl also directed episodes of breaking bad, justified, and dexter. i guess that’s where low-mid budget noir goes now.

  51. Jareth Cutestory

    August 6th, 2012 at 8:28 am

    I can see the term “Neo-noir” being useful to describe films that in part deliberately engage with Film Noir aesthetics or themes. Certainly when a director becomes conscious that he is employing Noir elements in a film, it is going to take the whole enterprise one big step outside the original group of films that defined the movement.

    Jarmusch’s knowing engagement with Noir tropes – and the particular tropes that interest him – will always result in something too aloof and too cool to be truly hard boiled and seedy. SUNSET BLVD boasts some of the most impressive employment noir visual tropes, but the script is just too knowing to be anything but a commentary on Noir (among so many other things) more than a manifestation of it. Likewise THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

    Neo-noir also seems to acknowledge that the morality and the “dark themes” at play in the original Noir films simply cannot be re-enacted, unless as part of a framing device, like in GET SHORTY; these themes and morals evolve too radically over time to be imported wholesale into today’s films. Time complicates them too much.

  52. Vern, if you liked this you must watch Red Rock West. It’s a better version of this… with Nic Cage. Nuff said.

  53. Yeah, I love Red Rock West and have been meaning to rewatch it for years. I liked the other John Dahls too, but not nearly as much.

    Remember, at one point they were considering him for that last Punisher movie. That probly would’ve been pretty different.

  54. I just love the escalating nightmare in this one. Even though Penn’s character is an ass, you can’t help but identify with his desire to just get out of town and his frustration at being unable to do so. The longer it goes, the more trapped you, which makes the ending even more great. Just when you thought you might be able to get away…

    To my mind, its one of the best films ever made at making sure you know you’re completely powerless to save yourself.

  55. Yeah, Red Rock West and The Last Seduction are classic Noir movies set int he modern day, like U Turn is. U Turn is just so weird too. It has all these existential, surreal touches to it that make it more than just a noir movie. It’s like this neverending nightmare for Penn’s character.

    What happened to John Dahl anyway? Looking at IMDB, he made a couple of really cool noir films and then bombed with Unforgettable (which I found not too bad at all) before recovering a bit with Joy Ride and Rounders and now he’s doing nothing but directing tv episodes.

    Can anyone tell me if I am missing anything with the rest of John Dahl’s ouevre? I’ve watched the Great Raid and it’s just a generic war rescue movie. What about You Kill Me with Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni and his very first movie, Kill Me Again, with Val Kilmer and ex-Mrs Kilmer, Joanne Whaley?

  56. I liked YOU KILL ME. Really solid, all-star cast and some good chuckles. I heard it’s being optioned by Showtime for a television series, which I’m not crazy about but it’s more the network I’m skeptical about. Makes sense since Dahl recently has directed quite a few episodes of DEXTER.

  57. SO, I just saw U-Turn for the first time last night and I really adored it. It was so crass and exploitative; Penn walks into this town, thinking “god what a backwards shithole this is,” and every single moment sets about proving him completely right. Jon Voight has some classic lines (“Nothing makes the Great Spirit laugh more than man’s plans”). For a good stretch of it, I was really into the random encounters with goofy characters and got annoyed/bored whenever we had to deal with Ms. Lopez and the “plot” proper. But her story gets ridiculous enough that it all eventually gels into a very coherent megavision. At the end they SPOILER drop the bomb about Nolte being her biological father and just when you’re trying to digest it, Lopez starts wailing “I fucked my daddy!” I can’t imagine a director other than Stone getting me to lol at such a moment. Exquisite trash, this movie.

    On the noir discussion, Mr. Paul said:

    ““But it also encompasses a style of pulpy crime stories full of violence, betrayal, and characters with unclear motives.” Exactly my point. Pulp Fiction has none of those, except the violence (which is usually portrayed in a way that it’s used for shock humour, which is completely atypical for classic film noir.) ”

    I agree with Paul that Pulp Fiction isn’t really a noir (or even neo-noir) film. I think Jackie Brown more strongly belongs to the discipline. I find the scene where DeNiro suddenly and casually guns down his fuck buddy is pretty upsetting and dark, very different than Martin in the back of the car in Pulp.

    The most noirish scene I can think of in Pulp is when Bruce is in the back of the cab, post-fight, and the cabbie reveals that his opponent didn’t survive the fight. A great many details about the scene are up-the-ass noir: the lighting, the gruff pauses between lines, etc. But meanwhile Bruce is didactically explaining his reaction to the info she’s laying upon him: “Well I didn’t know until you just told me, so now that you’ve told me my reaction is _____”. It’s hilariously mundane and unmysterious. In this way it’s entirely anti-noir, going so far as to make fun of the characterizations and conventions.

    I think the best way to do neo-noir is to displace film noir protagonists into modern day Los Angeles. I’m thinking THE LONG GOODBYE and THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Both are “comments on film noir” as one commenter suggested, but I think they both function as genuine noir as well. The bottle-to-the-face scene in LONG GOODBYE is one of the greatest audience-betrayal-by-way-of-sudden-and-shocking-violence moments in all of cinema, and good stuff could be said about the lost cat trope as well. THE BIG LEBOWSKI successfully locates a film noir sentiment rooted in the super-nihilistic 1990’s, where nobody believes in anything and nobody ever has a clue what anybody else is talking about.

  58. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    August 8th, 2012 at 4:37 am

    Renfield – I totally agree with you on that last paragraph. Regarding the two films you mention, it doesn’t hurt that “The Long Goodbye”, if it’s the one I’m thinking of, was based on a Raymond Chandler novel, whereas “The Big Lebowski” is in everything but name a Dashiell Hammett story with slightly different characters and settings. Those two, along with James M Cain, Ross MacDonald and Mickey Spillane, wrote so many novels and short stories that would become source-material for the film noir genre. (Think “The Postman always rings twice”, “The Drowning Pool” and “Kiss Me Deadly” respectively.)

  59. I always though “The Ninth Gate” w/ Johnny Depp was noir. Of course that was Roman P. film. The Woody Harrelson “Palmetto” was one too. I would even put the last Roman P. film in that category too. The Ghost Writer, which was fucking fantastic.

  60. Just thought of some more. Wild Things w/ Matt Dillon and those nice pieces of ass. And The Hot Spot w/ Don Johnson and a young Jenny Connelly. She never looked better. That one was directed by Dennis Hopper btw.

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