Film Recs: Something Noir-ish


One False Move (1991), a movie directed by Carl Franklin that stars Billy Bob Thornton (he co-wrote the screenplay), Cynda Williams and Bill Paxton, is one of my favorite movies. Have any of you seen it? This is a movie that doesn’t waste any time getting your attention for the first few minutes in. The premise: a drug deal goes bad and six people are murdered in the city of Los Angeles.

The film mostly follows the police officers as they track down the killers to a small rural town in Arkansas. Bill Paxton plays the small town sheriff there who enthusiastically welcomes the LA cops who fly down ahead to catch the dangerous trio who are making their way there. This is a major case for Dale Dixon (Bill Paxton’s character), who in his six years of being sheriff, has never had to use his gun. But Dale is star struck by the LA cops from the big bad city, often looking up to them as if they are heroes (and they are far from it). This film is well acted and directed and has a big secret towards the end. There is some humor within the story to lighten up the mood. Overall this film is one that I re-watch on a occasion and enjoy recommending to people.

I tapped Maili who offered to put together a list of other noir-like movies that would be of interest to fans like me who enjoyed One False Move. She knows everything about film (s). *g* Her list begins after the break. And please, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts or add recommendations. We would love to hear from you!

The List

On Twitter, Keishon asked if I had seen One False Move (1991), starring Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams and Bill Paxton. I had. Not only that, I still think it’s one of best crime films of the 1990s. Of course, Keishon asked for similar crime films. How could I resist?😀

I didn’t think to ask Keishon whether she meant the ones with the similar plot or did she want a list of noir films that feature characters manoeuvring through the consequences of their – or others’- actions? I decided to opt for the latter.

Here’s a list of films not based on novels:

  • The Lookout (2007) (once a school football star, the slightly brain-damaged janitor is being roped into a bank robbery by a former school friend who may not what he seems)
  • Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) (two brothers organise a robbery of their parents’ jewellery shop and to their quiet dismay, it doesn’t go in a direction it’s meant to go)
  • As the Blood Run Deep (2010) (formerly known as Meskada) (a small-town police officer investigates a house burglary that left a little boy dead)
  • Hard Eight (1996) (a.k.a. Sydney) (A down-and-out man is introduced to gambling by a slightly mysterious young woman and soon, he slips into a murky world of crime)
  • The Square (2008) (a married middle-class man and a married low-class woman, stuck in their adulterous affair, decide to cut ties loose and run off with a spouse’s drug money, not realising how far the consequences can reach. A compelling Aussie small-crime film.)
  • Lone Star (1997) (a Texan sheriff investigates after the buried skeleton of a former sheriff is found and he soon unearths secrets that some people want to stay buried)

A list of film adaptations:

NB: I’m limiting this list to two things: it has to be made after 1990 and – since we’re on Keishon’s crime fiction blog – it should be a film adaptation. Why not? Kill two birds with one stone and all, heh.

I love this IMDB summary so I’ll reproduce it here:

“Two brothers and a friend find $4 million in the cockpit of a downed plane. The pilot is dead. No one is looking for the money. To keep it, all they have to do is wait. IT ALL SOUNDED SO SIMPLE…”

Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, fresh from One False Move, appear together again in this seemingly similar film. They didn’t simply repeat their earlier roles here. Instead, they blew it out right off the water with their performances as an opportunistic lowlife and his socially awkward brother, who get into a situation that threatens to swallow them alive. I simply think this is the best film director Sam Raimi has given so far. His films before and after still haven’t quite lived up to this one, even though they have nothing in common. Basically, it’s a must-seen film. Also, credit to Thornton for not making a joke of – or stereotype – his character who has a learning disability. He introduced a depth I still appreciate to this day. Based on Scott Smith’s novel of same title. Also available in print and digital.

A retired government legal agent Benjamín Espósito writes a novel to find closure for his first case that he had never managed to solve: the brutal rape and murder of a sweet-natured newlywed bride. While accuracy isn’t necessary for his novel, he feels his novel deserves a sense of realism, so he decides to refresh his memories by visiting people who were involved with the case including the one he believed that got away with the murder. Little he knows that his revisiting would take him into the darkest part of the past.

The Secret in Their Eyes is Argentine, but before you’d run away screaming at the idea of watching a subtitled film, consider this little fact: it’s a great little crime film. It’s also a tale of redemption, love and slow-but-surely-served justice. Even so, there’s an ongoing debate among film critics whether it’s actually a good crime film. I thought it was, so I’m firmly in the camp of Yes.

Based on Eduardo Sacheri’s crime novel La Pregunta de Sus Ojos (The Question in Their Eyes), which I haven’t read but it’s available as The Secret in Their Eyes in English, published by Other Press in 2011. Available in both print and digital, too.

Set in 1940s-era Los Angeles, Easy Rawlins is out of work and utterly broke. With credit collectors on his back, he’s offered a massive payment of $100 to find a missing woman called Daphne Monet, who has been seeing a political candidate. As he investigates, people are started to drop like flies which prompts Easy to realise he’s being framed for their deaths.

Directed by Carl Franklin, who’s responsible for One False Move. I’m actually not that keen on Denzel Washington (his performances rarely vary beyond the line from A to C), but I thought he pulled it off pretty well as a world-weary private investigator who couldn’t quite protect his heart from a siren who could be his ultimate downfall.

Well, OK, L.A. Confidential (released in 1997, based on James Ellroy’s novel of same title) is superior to Devil in a Blue Dress in many aspects, but L.A. Confidential had a much bigger budget that allowed better production values, more freedom and better support. So if we put those aside and compare LAC and DIABD again, we’ll find they’re actually equals. Good plots, decent performances, great directions and solid scripts. Do look out for Don Cheadle, who almost stole the film under Washington’s nose with his fantastic performance as ‘Mouse’, a rather edgy friend. This one is based on Walter Mosley’s crime novel of same title, and available in print and digital.

And here’s a list of film adaptations I wasn’t keen on:

  • The Black Dahlia (2006) A real mess. I’m embarrassed for director Brian De Palma and all involved. Truly embarrassed. Based on James Ellroy’s novel of same title.
  • U Turn (1997) It could have been so much better. I still mourn the film’s missed opportunities. Red Rock West (1993) can – and does – kick U Turn‘s arse to the moon. Easily. Based on John Ridley’s crime novel, Stray Dogs, which incidentally received similar mixed reactions.
  • Drive (2010) Now, I did like this one – how could I not when Ryan Gosling is the lead and how some of the cast gave the performances of their careers? – but at the same time, I had problems with it. More to do with director’s handling than with the story itself. Based on James ‘s novella of same title, but it wasn’t a fun read. It served better as a sleeping pill, to be honest.
  • The Killer Inside Me (2010) Widely billed as a noir film and – oddly – it’s been compared with One False Move, but a) I think The Killer Inside Me is a character study of a sadistic psychopath who happens to be a Texan chief sheriff, and b) it has nothing in common with One False Move. That said, it’s a well-crafted and stylish film, but the story’s not the kind I enjoy. The original 1976 version wasn’t any better. In fact, the 2010 version is much superior to the 1976 version. Anyhow, both are based on Jim Thompson’s classic noir novel of same title.

Crap, I should have put Winter’s Bone on the main list because it’s good, and based on Daniel Woodrell’s country noir novel. Although it’s a tale of a teenage girl investigating her father’s disappearance that has her meeting some resistance from the local community she thought she knew well, it’s essentially a character study of a close-knitted community and its way of life.

That community and its stomping ground actually reminded me a lot of my home town in north-east Scotland, particularly the old-but-rigid invisible code system of conduct and honour that makes no sense to anyone but the locals. The viewing experience was quite bizarre, to be honest, because Winter’s Bone made me feel I was reliving my childhood years. Anyroad, I thought Winter’s Bone was a decent (if a little jarring) little film. Somewhat similar to As the Blood Runs Deep and Lone Star.

Actually, I should give a shout-out to The Ice Harvest (2005) as well. This John Cusack film is billed as a dark comedy with a noir element, but I think it offers a little more than that. Not quite Gross Pointe Blank, but not quite The Grifters, either. Plus, it’s based on Scott Phillips’s crime novel of same title.

All right, I’d better stop before somebody bash this keyboard on my head if I dared rambling on some more.

As always, recommendations welcome.

About Keishon

Romance reader now mystery reader. I enjoy all types of fiction but for the past 5 years I've enjoyed reading crime fiction. Please email me with recommendations or gush about your favorite writer! I love to hear from readers!
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14 Responses to Film Recs: Something Noir-ish

  1. Maxine says:

    I’ve seen The Secret in Their Eyes which I thought really good – the translation of the book is coming out later this year thanks to the film’s success (Random house I think). I was very disappointed by Winter’s Bone, which completely failed to capture the poverty, poetry and sheer Greek tragedy of the book which was superb. I haven’t seen One False Move or any of the others so will check them out, thanks! Always nice to have the occasional alternative to reading in the evenings, so long as it is occasional😉

    PS Changing subject, have just read a book you might like, The Blackhouse by Peter May. Quite Scandi-like (A Larsson/J Theorin) though set in Outer Hebrides.


  2. Thaddeus says:

    Just as a heads up Amazon US has all of the Ed Mcbain 87th Precinct ebooks (35 total) on sale for 99 cents each today. I know you have been working your way through the series and this has enabled me to pick up a bunch for cheap (usually $4.99).

    Thanks for the great coverage of crime fiction!



  3. Keishon,
    Thanks for the heads up on One False Move. For recent noir: Drive. Liked it. Admire Phoenician James Sallis for writing a book that went to movie.


  4. The only movie I’ve seen on this list The Secret in Their Eyes which I did like — I’d give it a B+. One of my favorite noirish movies that’s not on the list is LA Confidential.


  5. One False Move is a wonderful film. If I’m not mistaken, Billy Bob and Cynda Williams were married when this film was made. Although Drive was all right, might I suggest you check out the Walter Hill film The Driver, which is must better…


  6. Pingback: Film Review: A Simple Plan « Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog

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