The noir genre has a long history going back decades to American cinema of the 1940s, but as the times and standards changed, so did noir. Later entries retained the criminal acts and glimpses into the dark recesses of human nature while moving beyond the traditional plot and character conventions. Mood, style, and atmosphere remain, though, leaving this neo-noir sub-genre with just as many classics as noir itself.
The fine folks at Australia’s Imprint Films (a ViaVision label) recognize the draw of the neo-noir, and to celebrate that they’ve put together a box-set that’s hopefully the first of a series. After Dark: Neo-Noir Cinema collects six films from the nineties — something of a high point for Hollywood neo-noirs — each with new and old special features, and some of them are making their worldwide debut here on Blu-ray. The films include After Dark My Sweet, Mortal Thoughts, Rush, One False Move, Flesh and Bone, and Twilight. Imprint presents them in chronological order, but I’ll be covering them in order from the best to the least best.
The After Dark: Neo Noir Cinema box comes in a slick hardbox with a die-cut top. Each film gets its own snap-case inside, and the set also includes a booklet with new writing on the films by Walter Chaw and Peter Galvin. They’re great essays (for reading after you’ve watched the movies) and add to the set’s clear love for the films, the genre, and cinema itself. It’s a broad collection with both obvious and unexpected titles, but they’re all worth a watch and welcome additions in this set.
Now keep reading for a look at the individual films in Imprint’s new After Dark: Neo Noir Cinema – Collection One!
One False Move (1992)
A Los Angeles suburb is rocked by the home invasion-style, drug-related murders of multiple people, and it’s not long before the police catch a lead. A trio of killers including Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), Pluto (Michael Beach), and Ray’s girlfriend, Fantasia (Cynda Williams), are on the run with a load of cash and drugs, and they’re heading to the small town of Star City, Arkansas. Chief of Police Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton) has a history with one of them, but he still isn’t prepared for the bloody storm heading his way.
The great Carl Franklin — still busy on television, but sorely missed behind the camera on features — directs this engrossing, beautifully crafted thriller about a diverse group of people on a direct path towards conflagration. The killers are heading to Star City, two L.A. detectives are there waiting for them, and the town’s “aww shucks” police chief is the connecting tissue. Rich character beats, incredible tension, and some electrifying acts of violence combine for a film that pulls viewers in with the slow crackle of atmosphere, sharp dialogue, and anticipation.
The acting is strong and memorable across the board, but Paxton is absolute dynamite as the fun-loving, small town cop excited at the prospect of catching some honest to god, big-time criminals. His slow realization that he might be in over his head, paired with an emotional connection to one of the three killers, leaves him standing alone as an underdog. Paxton excels here — a goofy guy with a serious streak, an inexperienced cop who might yet be up to the job — and it’s a terrific performance in a fantastic film.
Imprint’s After Dark: Neo Noir Cinema set features the worldwide Blu-ray debut of One False Move, a wild realization seeing as the movie is thirty years-old, and its HD presentation is solid. A new transfer might still be in the cards down the road, but for now this is a strong release that also includes a trailer and the following extras.
- Commentary by Carl Franklin
- *NEW* Commentary by Shaka King and producer Brandon Harris
- *NEW* Feeding the Soul [16:41] – “Pluto was definitely a sociopath.” Actor Michael Beach talks about his road to One False Move, how he used his audition to go against what was written, and the friendship he developed with Billy Bob Thornton.
- *NEW* Finding My Voice [15:14] – “I really suck at auditioning.” Actor Cynda Williams shares that her entire character was on the page, how she landed Mo’ Better Blues (1990), and more.
- *NEW* Truth and Rhythm [12:36] – “Bill Paxton was extraordinary.” Editor Carole Kravetz Aykanian talks about shifting from dancer to editor, finding the movement and rhythm from the editing chair, and more.
- *NEW* Hurricane and Fantasia [24:16] – A video essay by Chris O’Neill
After Dark, My Sweet (1990)
The desert sun beats down on a small California town, and Collie (Jason Patric) beats the asphalt. He’s an ex-boxer and an ex-mental patient, but both truths still pulse in his blood. A brief stop in a dive bar introduces him to the long-legged Fay (Rachel Ward) who in turn leads him to her scheming Uncle Bud (Bruce Dern). The pair have a plan and want Collie’s help to kidnap a rich kid and make bank off his ransom. With trust in short supply and sweat running rampant, the trio move forward despite it all feeling destined to end in carnage.
James Foley’s adaptation of Jim Thompson’s celebrated novel succeeds beautifully in capturing the book’s story and mood while creating its own character and atmosphere. After Dark, My Sweet may have little meaning as a literal title, but there’s an ominous poetry to it that suits the film perfectly. Foley and co-writer Robert Redlin take their time with these people before the predicaments even rear their head, and it affords viewers time to sink into this world, to feel the heat and unmoving air, and to grow just as uneasy with these three as they are with each other.
Patric is fantastic here, narrating his fate and moving viewers through a morally corrupt relationship between strangers. It’s clear from the start that this kid is in danger while in their “care,” but the threats evolve and shift throughout the film until everything implodes. Ward, meanwhile, elevates the traditional femme fatale role into something uncertain, sultry, and every bit as dangerous. And Dern? Well you know he’ll always deliver as a sleazy, untrustworthy prick. All three are tremendous here.
Imprint’s release is only the film’s second appearance on Blu-ray after last year’s French release, and it’s a highly recommended pick up for fans. The HD print looks quite good and captures sweat and suspicion with equal clarity. The disc also includes a trailer and the following extras.
- *NEW* Commentary by director James Foley
- *NEW* Commentary by film critic Travis Woods
- Light on a Film Noir [32:09] – “I think the film succeeds because I didn’t know I was making film noir.” James Foley talks about what drew him to the adaptation, the film’s production, and his connection to the lead character.
- *NEW* Primal Precipice [17:25] – “If I don’t nail this, I’m not acting anymore.” Jason Patric recounts his journey through Hollywood starting with being a PA on one of his father’s films, the “big mess” that is Solarbabies, turning down The Lost Boys numerous times, how much he loves The Beast, and his eventual move to bring the script for After Dark, My Sweet to James Foley.
- *NEW* Call Me Uncle Bud [12:51] – “Do roles that other actors won’t do.” Bruce Dern — who’s still alive! — recalls his early life, kind words from Geraldine Page, a weird compliment for Donald Rumsfeld, and his long career in Hollywood.
- *NEW* A Psychotic of Goodwill [14:04] – Jim Thompson expert Robert Polito discusses the author’s fictional creations.
Flesh and Bone
Arliss Sweeney (Dennis Quaid) keeps to himself and leads a quiet life working the roads of rural America. As a boy he was witness to criminal acts of violence by his murderous old man (James Caan), and it’s left him a shattered, emotionless adult. A spark ignites within him, though, when he meets a young woman named Kay (Meg Ryan) who seems to be carrying a burden every bit as heavy. It’s a truth that binds them together even as the past returns threatening to tear them apart.
I’ve long been a fan of Flesh and Bone — the first in Quaid’s unofficial “sad bastard” trilogy which also includes Switchback (1997) and Horsemen (2009) — as a mean-spirited mood piece high on atmosphere and simmering rage. He wears a grimace throughout, but rather than feel one-note he ensures the character feels a wide range of emotions. The muted joy he finds in Kay comes with such weight and fear that nearly every scene drips with dread, and the idea of hope and a happy ending are tantalizingly elusive.
Caan is equally strong here with a particularly menacing role as Arliss’ father, and as villainous as he is in the past he’s even more of a monster in the film’s present. A young Gwyneth Paltrow joins him, and the four make for a somber quartet wound together into something grim but beautifully crafted. Writer/director Steve Kloves knows exactly what he’s doing here, and while there’s a conventional nature to some aspects of the plot it’s a film primarily focused on its characters and the atmosphere surrounding them. The result is a seemingly incongruous mix of stark beauty and bleak truths making it arguably the grimmest film in the After Dark: Neo Noir Cinema box set.
Flesh and Bone comes to Blu-ray from Imprint with an effective HD print and the following extras.
- *NEW* Commentary by director/writer Steve Kloves
- *NEW* A Tradition of Tragedies [12:42] – “Can you please put it all back the way it was?” Editor Mia Goldman recalls early career assists from Carol Littleton, how Austin isn’t Texas, and how clear of a vision Steve Kloves had for the film.
- *NEW* All About Place [14:43] – “This is not how you make a movie.” Production designer Jon Hutman talks about his early career, scouting this film all across Texas, and more.
- James Caan Interview [3:53]
- Gwyneth Paltrow Interview [5:25]
- Dennis Quaid Interview [5:11]
Undercover police work is never a walk in the park, but sink too deep and it can become a nightmare. Jim Raynor (Jason Patric) is a veteran of the job who welcomes a new partner in Kristen Cates (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and it’s not long before the duo start racking up evidence to put dozens of dealers away. Their target, though, is a long-haired top-dog named Gaines (Gregg Allman), but nabbing him might require cutting corners. Worse? The pull of that elusive drug high is sometimes too strong even for the “good” guys.
Rush is probably the least noir-ish film in the After Dark: Neo Noir Cinema set, but as the term’s definition is a nebulous one it still manages to feel at home with its unflinching look into the hearts and minds of the morally ambiguous. It’s still, and surprisingly, the only feature directorial effort from celebrated producer Lili Fini Zanuck, and that’s a damn shame as she shows both an eye for visuals — the opening oner is a terrifically crafted entry into this world — and an empathy for characters regardless of their choices.
Of course, it helps when your debut film features stellar performances from the likes of Patric, Leigh, and others. The two leads in particular do great work sinking into the lifestyle and struggling to emerge at the other end. They bring life to a true-ish story based on the real-life experiences of cop turned felon turned author Kim Wozencraft (basically the character played by Leigh), and it’s a harrowing tale. Action beats take a back seat to drama, but genre junkies will still get a minor fix here.
Imprint’s release isn’t the film’s first appearance on Blu-ray, but it’s a strong looking print on a disc featuring some insightful extras. The interview with Lili Fini Zanuck is a highlight.
- Commentary by director Lili Fini Zanuck
- *NEW* Commentary by journalist and author Bryan Reesman
- *NEW* Not for Beauty’s Sake [14:25] – “It looked like a big producer putting his trophy wife behind the camera.” Jason Patric recalls passing on the film at first before being convinced by Zanuck to take the job, comments on his differing acting style from Jennifer Jason Leigh, and shares how he gave Greg Allman advice on acting.
- *NEW* Going to Work [15:42] – “That was a real ‘aha’ moment.” Lili Fini Zanuck talks about getting into her husband’s business early on in their marriage, bringing Cocoon (1985) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989) home, and her growing interest in film directing.
- *NEW* Psychologically True [13:46] – “I felt like I had invaded an alien territory when I became a police officer.” Kim Wozencraft shares memories of her journey into and out of the police department, thoughts about her time in jail, and explores how all of it led to her present life.
- *NEW* She’s Got an Edge to Her [13:01] – Video essay by Chris O’Neill
- Filming Rush [8:51]
- Tears in Heaven [4:43]
Mortal Thoughts (1991)
A man is dead, and the police have brought in the widow’s best friend for some questioning. The truth is an elusive beast, though, and before the night is through they’ll be walked through a story about friendship, betrayal, love, and murder as Cynthia (Demi Moore) details exactly what unfolded with her friend Joyce’s (Glenne Headly) marriage to James (Bruce Willis).
Like Rush above, Mortal Thoughts feels like a tangential noir in the After Dark: Neo Noir Cinema set, and it’s due in part to the story being told in retrospect. There’s no ongoing tension or suspense in the traditional sense — we’re not worried that our leads are going to bite it as they’re here in the present — but there’s clear danger in the telling. Things build to a head until a death occurs, and the mystery behind that death, along with the tragedy that follows, makes up the meat of the tale. It’s good stuff even if it’s rarely all that thrilling, more a drama than anything else, but the performances carry it across the finish line.
Harvey Keitel is the lead detective pushing Cynthia towards the truth, and the two have some great back and forths in the process. Willis is also quite good and convincing as a violent asshole whose death no one mourns. The film belongs to Moore and Headly, though, as the two give terrific turns as friends, wives, conspirators, and more. Their relationship is a complicated one, and the conflicts that emerge capture the nature of loyalty and toxicity in equal measure.
Imprint’s release is a worldwide Blu-ray debut for the film and includes a trailer as well as the following extras which include a wonderfully honest interview with producer Taylor Hackford.
- *NEW* Commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
- *NEW* Murder Most Foul [14:18] – “I became a producer out of defense.” Executive producer Taylor Hackford gives a brief overview of his own early career including Paramount’s dislike of An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and Against All Odds (1984), the latter of which they ultimately passed on, before offering an honest look into the troubled but rewarding production of this film. This is a great and insightful talk.
- *NEW* Troubled Dreams [21:22] – “There were a lot of things that were atypical on that show.” Production designer Howard Cummings and art director Bob Shaw offer up some early bios before digging into the troubles with the original director and more.
- *NEW* Fatal Flashback: Scoring Mortal Thoughts [15:57] – “I feel the score is trying to find that whimsy in the movie that perhaps isn’t there.” Composer Mark Isham talks about the synchronicity that brought him and Alan Rudolph together, his process with the score, and more.
Harry Ross (Paul Newman) is an ex-cop turned private eye who spends most of his time doing side jobs for an old friend (Gene Hackman). It’s as much to do with their history as with Harry’s ongoing affair with the man’s wife (Susan Sarandon), but things take a real turn when his latest errand ends in murder.
This little mystery/thriller is something of an odd duck worth it almost entirely for the cast alone. As Newman’s final leading role (he chased it with a couple supporting turns) he remains an absolute star even if he sometimes has a shaky physical presence. Hackman and Sarandon are pros, and they’re joined by fun turns from James Garner, Stockard Channing, Reese Witherspoon, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schreiber, character actor Margo Martindale, M. Emmet Walsh, and more.
The film, co-written by director Robert Benton and Richard Russo, sees itself as a mystery even if the eventual reveals are obvious from the second a certain character makes their appearance. Still, there’s a lush Los Angeles atmosphere about it all as we move from sun dappled pools and mansions to dry earth surrounding abandoned ranch homes, and Newman powers through as a guy sick of wallowing it shit but unable to walk away. The themes at play, evident in the title, touch on people’s final years in some engaging if not quite fully explored ways. It’s ultimately a slight film, definitely the lightest of the six collected in the After Dark: Neo Noir Cinema set, but it’s a fun enough time for fans of legendary performers.
Twilight hits disc as a worldwide Blu-ray debut, and it includes a trailer and the following extras.
- *NEW* Commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini
- *NEW* Commentary by Alexei Toliopoulos and Blake Howard
- *NEW* Reflecting on Noir [15:44] – “Exposition for an editor is the most difficult problem there is.” Editor Carol Littleton talks about working with director Robert Benton, the film’s original title (Magic Hour), and how a recent rewatch opened up more of the film’s noir-ish intentions for her.
- *NEW* Elmer’s Twilight [12:40] – “It’s one of the first cases of a movie score being a giant hit.” Film music historian Daniel Schweiger explores the career of composer Elmer Bernstein.
Head to the official Imprint Films site for more info on the After Dark: Neo Noir Cinema collection and other great releases, and check out our review of their fantastic release of Walter Hill’s The Warriors.
Related Topics: Home Video