Film Noir

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Private Detective? Check. Femme Fatale? Check. Chiaroscuro lighting? Check. This is Film Noir.
You need cops, venetian blinds, lots of smoking, hats, sweat, dead-end streets, guys who know all the angles except for the one that ends up sticking out of their backs. Sirens of the automotive and female kind.
James Lileks, The Bleat "Think You Oughta Drink That"

Film Noir is a genre of stylish crime dramas, difficult to define, but the 1940's and 50's were the classic period. Whether works since then can be accurately classed as Noir is a subject of much debate among film critics. Film Noir, and the literature from which it is drawn, is clearly the progenitor of later genres, particularly Cyberpunk.

Common subjects of noir films include murder investigations, heists, con games, and (mostly) innocent men or women Wrongly Accused of crime. The double-cross and cigarette smoking are mandatory. Complicated plots are further convoluted by Flashbacks and Flash Forwards—the narration tying everything together, assuming we can trust him.

Noir, in the classic and stylistic sense, is visually darker than your average gangster picture, playing with light and long, deep shadows instead of bright, documentary-styled camera work. This visual motif is so iconic that homages and parodies are almost universally Deliberately Monochrome, using a transition between colour and black and white where necessary. Scenes are often filmed on location, and night scenes are shot at night. Camera angles are often very creative and unusual, heightening the viewers sense of unease, adding to the atmosphere. The contrast between light and dark is sometimes used in the cinematography to reflect the difference between the villain and the protagonist(s). the combination of brooding sets with convoluted plots and you have the basis of the genre-defining works. It rains every night in Film Noir; filmmakers admit that this is entirely because at night wet pavement looks cooler than dry. Also, the rain makes it plausible that no one else is around.

The Anti-Hero is the most common protagonist of the Noir—a man alienated from society, suffering an existential crisis. Frequently portrayed as a disillusioned, cynical police officer or private-eye and played by a fast-talking actor, the Anti-Hero is no fool and doesn't suffer fools gladly. He faces morally ambiguous decisions and battles with a world that seems like it is out to get him and/or those closest to him.

The setting is often a large, oppressive city (filmed in dark and dusky conditions to create a moody atmosphere), with Mexico often playing a big role. Familiar haunts include dimly-lit bars, nightclubs filled with questionable clientele (including, the Gayngster) whom the lead may intimidate for information, gambling dens, juke joints and the ubiquitous seedy waterfront warehouse. At night in the big city, you can bet the streets are slick with rain, reflecting streetlights like a Hopper painting. Most of the characters (including the lead) are cynical, misanthropical and hopeless all the way through the film, and never find true redemption.

The tone and outlook of Film Noir must be bleak, defeatist, and pessimistic—it always suggests a sliminess beyond what it can show. Nobody gets what they want, and everyone gets what's coming to them. Characters are often armed -- revolvers, Colt 1911s, and if they need More Dakka, tommy guns. They'll probably wear a Fedora or trilby hat with a trench coat. Frequently the ending will be low-key and leave no one character happy or fulfilled. Commonly, there is also a great deal of sexual tension between the hero and the female lead; Noir stories are quite risqué. The original Film Noir era followed the Hays Code, so the odds of a female lead removing her clothing are minimal. This applies to modern versions; gratuitous nudity or scenes of excessive violence are hinted at rather than portrayed. It is often what is not seen that adds to the mystery and suspense.

Film Noir works are often low on exposition to heighten tension, keeping the audience guessing until the final unraveling. The conclusion takes place in the closing moments, ties up all the loose ends, answers many (if not all) of the major questions and keeps the morally ambiguous theme of the work intact. These factors contribute to the widely-held opinion that Film Noir works are among the best artistic works of all time despite their grim settings and contemptible characters.

Not to be confused with the religious conspiracy anime Noir, nor with a certain carapacian Archagent.

Tropes found in the Film Noir genre include:

Characters and Character Tropes

Other Tropes

A common form of Something Completely Different is the Noir Episode—a work spends a single episode homaging or parodying Film Noir style (or just has everyone wearing trilbies and talking about the rain, in black and white). See also our So You Want To Write a Film Noir guide.

Examples of works in the Film Noir genre include:

Film, Literature and Western Animation[edit | hide | hide all]

Proto-Noir[edit | hide]

Frequently Referenced "Classic" Noirs[edit | hide]

Post-Classic & Neo-Noir[edit | hide]

Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • One Hundred Bullets
  • Sin City
  • Dogby Walks Alone - parodied by being placed in a Theme Park setting.
  • The Marvel Noir line. Changes to Wolverine, for example, include his signature claws actually being handheld Japanese weapons. Naturally, there's a different version of Logan on the X-Men. In normal Marvel continuity, such street-level heroes as Daredevil, Moon Knight and the Punisher have all had runs or story arcs that followed many noir conventions.
  • Blacksad - An anthropomorphic detective series, that follows the stories of John Blacksad.
  • The Damned - A detective cursed to never die working for demonic(literally demons) gang bosses in the midst of a war with a rival organization.
  • The third series of X-Factor features Jamie Madrox's attempt at a noir mutant detective agency.
  • Criminal by Ed Brubaker.
  • Sleeper by Ed Brubaker.
  • Incognito by Ed Brubaker.
  • Brian Michael Bendis's Alias by Ed Brubaker.
  • Watchmen contains significant noir elements.

Fan Fiction[edit | hide]

Literature[edit | hide]

Spoofs and Parodies[edit | hide]

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Veronica Mars somehow effectively used this style in a San Diego high school setting.
  • Charmed had an episode based around a book taking them to a place with this style.
  • An episode of Moonlighting did this well.
  • Smallville had a Jimmy centric episode set in a noir dream sequence.
  • Other than being set in Hawaii, Magnum, P.I. tended this was as well, complete with Private Eye Monologue.
  • Kamen Rider Double is based on Noir.
  • Terriers
  • Luther
  • The BBC two part Drama "Exile"
  • Peter Gunn
  • The Shadow Line is heavily inspired by Film Noir, borrowing many plot elements and a very dark and cynical tone.
  • Season 5, episode 10 of Monk, "Mr. Monk and the Leper," was filmed as a noir, and there are both color and black and white versions, which were shown back-to-back when the episode premiered (the B&W version aired first).
  • Angel was heavily influenced by Film Noir, mostly up to about half way through the third season, but it retained certain Film Noir traits until the very end, such as the moral abiguity. The final scene of the show is in the classic Film Noir setting of rainy alleyway.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Tex Murphy (1996)
  • Grim Fandango (1998)
  • The Black Dahlia (1998) - correct setting, period clothes and corny dialogue to boot.
  • Discworld Noir (1999) - Exactly What It Says on the Tin
  • Max Payne (2001) - Also a movie
    • Its sequel even used the tagline "A Film Noir Love Story". Which is somewhat ironic, given that the protagonist is much less cynical jaded in the sequel than in the original.
  • Deja Vu
  • Jack Orlando: A Graphic Adventure
  • Dead Head Fred
  • Gabriel Knight Sins of The Fathers Combines Noir with horror much the same way as the film Angel Heart.
  • The Thief series (1998- ). Dear God, the Thief series...
  • Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (2006) and it's sequel, Last Window (2010)
  • Heavy Rain (2010)
  • The later Hitman games start to veer into this territory by virtue of Growing the Beard and aiming for a more Darker and Edgier feel. Several missions in the third and fourth game (Contracts and Blood Money) have a genuinely noir tone.
  • L.A. Noire (2011) fittingly enough.
  • The Shivah, by Wadjet Eye Games
  • Emerald City Confidential is described by the producer as follows: 'Harsh city streets, grey rainy skies, femmes fatales, tough guys, trenchcoats, fedoras and plot twists. It's Oz, seen through the eyes of Raymond Chandler'.
  • Blackwell Legacy uses some elements of the noir (one of the protagonists is a Deadpan Snarker ghost from the 30's). People in Wadjed Eye Games must really like this genre.
  • Deus Ex Human Revolution (2011) consists of both Film Noir and Cyberpunk (à la Blade Runner).
  • Deus Ex (2000) also heavily borrows from the noir aesthetics and narrative structure. Technically, this is a noir game with government agent and conspirators replacing more common private dick and crooks.
  • By virtue of evoking late 80s scifi movies, Mass Effect 2 evokes this in parts, especially on Omega, Ilium and the Citadel. Thane and Samara's loyalty missions are even investigations with much less action than the rest of the game (oddly enough, both characters are stoic badasses with philosophical sides).
  • Blade Runner (1997) follows the movie with its distinctive noir feeling mixed with s-f settings.
  • Carte Blanche: For a Fistful of Teeth. Bonus points for black-and-white graphics.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

Other[edit | hide]

  • The 2007 Hollywood Portfolio of Vanity Fair magazine set up a faux noir film called "Killers Kill, Dead Men Die" to accompany the series of photos taken, complete with casting and set descriptions in the captions.