11. Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005)
Screenplay by Johnson
A high school loner played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt investigates the murder of his ex-girlfriend in this unique film modeled after classic hard-boiled detective films. In less talented hands Brick, with its “old meets new” storyline and unique slang, could have gone way off course but the film works very well and is anchored by a superb lead performance by Gordon-Levitt.
Screenwriter/director Johnson went through a sophomore slump with the offbeat con-man film The Brothers Bloom (2008) then cast Gordon-Levitt as the lead in his clever but very uneven time travel crime film Looper (2012).
12. Empire of the Wolves (Chris Nahon, 2005)
Screenplay by Nahon, Jean-Christophe Grange, Christian Clavier, Franck Ollivier, Luc Bossi and Simon Michael based on the Grange novel
A police detective teams up with a disgraced crooked cop to investigate a series of gruesome murders with links to the Turkish criminal underworld in this highly underrated French film that mixes in elements of the suspense thriller of acquired identity.
As the discredited former cop Schiffer, the great French actor Jean Reno turns in one of his career-best performances and the cinematography by Michel Abramowicz is tremendously atmospheric.
The literary work of Jean-Christophe Grange had previously been the basis for the outstanding Crimson Rivers (2000) with Vincent Cassel and Jean Reno playing a pair of police detectives.
13. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007)
Screenplay by Kelly Masterson
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play a pair of brothers whose plan to rob the jewelry store owned by their parents goes horribly wrong.
With his final feature film, director Lumet of Serpico (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) fame showed that even in his early eighties, he still had a tremendous amount of talent. As a matter of fact, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is by far Lumet’s best film since the underrated neo-film noir Q&A (1990). Seek it out if you missed it the first time around.
14. Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007)
Screenplay by Affleck and Aaron Stockard based on the Dennis Lehane novel
A private detective played by Casey Affleck clashes with a pair of police detectives played by Ed Harris and John Ashton as he works to find a kidnapped young girl.
Excellent acting, screenplay and directing make this one a winner and Casey Affleck’s lead performance is one of the most underrated aspects of this well-received film. Screenwriter/director/actor Ben Affleck followed Gone Baby Gone with The Town (2010)-a film heavily influenced by Michael Mann’s 1995 Heat wherein Affleck wisely chose to cast Jeremy Renner in a major supporting role but unwisely chose to cast himself in the lead.
15. Waz (aka The Killing Gene) (Tom Shankland, 2007)
Screenplay by Clive Bradley
A guilt-ridden police detective played by Stellan Skarsgard teams up with a new partner played by Melissa George to investigate a series of interconnected murders in this very underrated British film. Skarsgard, superb as the lead in the 1997 neo-film noir classic Insomnia, is excellent as the cop with secrets about a past case that the current string of killings are in danger of exposing.
Waz offers a far more memorable and unique take on the idea of moral confrontation than all the films in the grossly overrated Saw film franchise put together. Director Shankland went on to make the inexplicably underrated apocalyptic horror film The Children (2008) and has been focusing on directing television since. He is a true underrated cinematic talent who should be directing more feature films.
16. The Chaser (Na Hong-jin, 2008)
Screenplay by Hong-jin, Hong Won-chan and Lee Shin-ho
An ex-cop turned pimp investigates the disappearance of two of his female employees and finds himself on a collision course with a serial murderer in this highly lauded South Korean film. No one could deny that the world of South Korean cinema has a number of great actors such as Choi Min-sik and Song Kang-ho. Add Kim Yun-seok and Ha Jung-woo to that list as they both deliver very fine performances as the pimp and the killer, respectively.
An auspicious debut feature from Na Hong-jin, the screenwriter/director would follow The Chaser with the brilliant neo-film noir The Yellow Sea (2010) in which he casts Kim Yun-seok as the crime boss villain and Ha Jung-woo as the amateur hitman protagonist. Both actors are superb in each picture but, unfortunately, Na Hong-jin has not made a film since The Yellow Sea.
17. The Last Deadly Mission (aka MR73) (Olivier Marchal, 2008)
Screenplay by Marchal
Screenwriter/director Marchal reunites with his 36th Precinct star Daniel Auteuil for this story of an alcoholic Marseilles cop with a chaotic life out to protect a woman from the killer of her parents.
Marchal & Auteuil’s second collaboration is another big success, albeit more tightly focused and grittier than 36th Precinct.
Auteuil’s lead performance is spectacular and look for veteran French character actor Philippe Nahon as the murderer soon to be released from prison.
18. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009)
Screenplay by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg based on the Steig Larsson novel
19. The Girl Who Played With Fire (Daniel Alfredson, 2009)
Screenplay by Jonas Frykberg based on the Steig Larsson novel
I’ve included both films in one write-up since they are the first two parts of one long story about a brilliant computer hacker and an investigative journalist who uncover deadly secrets about a wealthy family. Much has been written and discussed regarding these Swedish films and the completely unnecessary American remake of the first film by David Fincher in 2011.
The engine that really makes these films work is the incredible lead performance by Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander that the remake proves was inimitable. The third entry in the 2009 series The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is both the least visceral and the least memorable of the trilogy.
20. Slice (aka Cheun) (Kongkiat Khomsiri, 2009)
Screenplay by Khomsiri and Wisit Sasanatieng
This horror-tinged neo-noir gem from Thailand flew under the radar of most but should definitely be sought out. An ex-cop who now acts as a deadly enforcer for a crooked police commander is given a matter of days to track down a mass murderer. Looking at the methods the killer is using, the enforcer thinks the killer might be a childhood friend of his who suffered multiple forms of abuse growing up.
Slice is a very gritty-looking film that, like David Cronenberg’s classic The Brood (1979), has the issue of the lifelong effects of childhood abuse at its core. The acting is excellent across the board and it would be stunning if there wasn’t serious conversation about an unneeded English-language remake.
Other Notable Neo-Noir films of the 2000s
These are films that didn’t make the cut for the main list for various reasons but are still well worth seeking out or revisiting: Way of the Gun (Christopher McQuarrie, 2000), Dark Blue (Ron Shelton, 2002), The Salton Sea (D.J. Caruso, 2002), Dead Man’s Shoes (Shane Meadows, 2004), A History of Violence & Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2005 & 2007), Death Sentence (James Wan, 2007), Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009)
Author Bio: Terek Puckett is an actor, screenwriter and film writer based in Los Angeles. He is a graduate of Wright State University in Ohio and his areas of film expertise include horror cinema and neo-film noir. More of his film writing can be seen here: http://www.soundonsight.org/author/terek-puckett/.