The 1990s was actually somewhat of a great decade for neo-noir films with sultry femme fatales, hapless everyman heroes, corrupt cops, convoluted plots, and everything else that you keep associating with these kinds of movies. The rise of the neo-noir in the previous decade coincided with the continued popularity of the erotic thriller, which is itself an offshoot of classic noirs.
The influence of “Basic Instinct” helped many neo-noir elements to become relevant again. Especially in the early part of the decade, there had been a lot of great attempts at making neo-noirs, but just like the 2000s, there were a lot of good ones that went unnoticed. Since the decade itself is actually full of great stuff, it was a bit hard to choose but hopefully there’s some balance between cult favorites and those that didn’t get the love they deserve.
10. Flesh and Bone (1993)
And you thought “In the Cut” was Meg Ryan’s first attempt into the dark territory. This is a slow-building neo-noir that works even more of a character study, which calmly depicts the main characters through its length and their way of life.
Roy Sweeney and his young son Arlis roam West Texas as thieves. One night a burglary goes wrong and Roy shoots a married couple and their son. However, the second child, a baby, survives. Now, a Texan delivery man, Arlis, crosses paths with a lost young woman. This encounter will unearth a terrifying story buried for a very long time, at the time.
It’s a dusty noir done languid and mean. It’s also a bit depressing but it works, thanks to the fine use of noir and the all-star cast delivering very solid work. The movie is directed by Steve Koles, who previously also made a great film called “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” For some reason, he devoted the rest of his life to adapting “Harry Potter” movies but he was an interesting director and it’d be even more interesting if he’d ever decided to go back. “Flesh and Bone” is an unusual story with some unexpected surprises.
9. Shattered (1991)
As it so happens very often at the beginning of many a noir or neo-noir movie, a car goes off a cliff with two people inside, a husband and wife. They both survive somehow, but our lead guy – portrayed by Tom Berenger – has severe injuries. His wife takes care of him, with the aid of doctors and surgeons. The weird thing is his amnesia only affects his personal memories. He knows how to do everyday things but can’t remember a lot about his own life, job, wife, colleagues and friends.
When he thinks his life is getting back to normal, he gets to learn many things that he isn’t sure about. Now the film turns into a mystery with a lot of twists and turns. Frankly, some of those twists are rightfully found to be a bit overly ridiculous by some critics but several other critics praised their originality and unexpectedness which is also why this movie is here.
No, it’s not a masterpiece, but it’s everything you want from an early ‘90s neo-noir. It has talented actors, an unusual storyline, just the right tone, a cool atmosphere and a lot of twists. You’re not here to care about the film’s logic – you’re just here to enjoy the ride and that’s what “Shattered” offers you: delicious entertainment.
8. Final Analysis (1992)
The movie got a lot of harsh reviews for being overly complicated and did not find the whole story very convincing but to neo-noir fans, but “Final Analysis” has a lot to offer if you don’t expect some kind of groundbreaking masterpiece. It’s a very fine early ‘90s noir with a lot of Hitchcock and Howard Hawks (particularly “The Big Sleep” influences).
Forensic psychiatrist Richard Gere comes across the implausible sister couple Kim Basinger and Uma Thurman. Thurman is his patient, and Basinger is her sister. He falls in love with her but she’s married to a psychotic husband, played by Eric Roberts who plays a more cool, less loser sort of his “Star 80” character but more on a surface level. Visually attractive, “Final Analysis” offers you a Hitchockian style, a lot of twists, erotic tensions that are characteristic with the films of that era, fine star charisma from the leads, and delicious supporting turns from Thurman and Roberts. Maybe if it was more of a minor film without much commercial appeal and without those stars, it’d get even better reception.
7. Palmetto (1998)
Prominent member of the New German Cinema of the late 1960s and early 1970s Volker Schlöndorff has made several Hollywood features and one of them was 1998 thriller “Palmetto” with Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue and Gina Gershon. A former reporter in Florida who was imprisoned for a scandal now got involved in a fake kidnapping after being released from prison out of boredom and financial difficulties, with the aim of extorting half a million dollars. But as is typical with neo-noir films, things go wrong and then again wrong.
With Florida sunsets, battleship-like cars and magnificent estates, Schlöndorff goes for an interesting tone here that may work, especially to those who love these types of movies but can be off-putting some others; it’s obvious that he loves the noirs of the ‘40s and ‘50s and wants to capture the style as well as he could, but he also knows that his story is not deep and thus tries not take it too seriously, and he mostly succeeds. Shue’s campy and strange performance alone makes it worth watching. Gershon is always a fine addition.
6. Cop Land (1997)
“It’s not easy being a good cop. God knows we need good cops. So it’s easy to talk someone into abandoning / de-emphasizing residency rules. ‘Why shouldn’t a good cop be able to live where he wants?’ goes the argument. Well, because commuting cops bring a different attitude. Commuting cops are 9-5 soldiers in a land that is not their own. They do not have vested interest in embracing the place they patrol, rather, their interest in ‘containing’ it. This produces quiet pernicious and systemic racism.”
That’s what director James Mangold tweeted this year. One of Mangold’s lesser known but perhaps also one of his best movies, “Cop Land” got the most attention for being one of the rare cases where Sylvester Stallone’s performance got good notices. The movie is much more than that, though – he also has a great cast to accompany him, including Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and a scene-stealing Ray Liotta. Even though the story is not necessarily as complex as some of the better known corrupt cop noir films, it’s still a movie full of interesting characters. Scorsese and Lumet’s influence is very obvious on Mangold’s craftsmanship as well.