Thursday, June 01, 2006
The Grifters (Stephen Frears, 1990) 
Neo-noir is, for me, something that’s pretty hard to define because it doesn’t have any concrete characteristics to define it the way film noir did. This film is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to being considered the template for neo-noir, not so much for visuals but just from the film’s atmosphere. The characters here are two-bit chiselers trying to find a way out of their seedy, crime-ridden lives. The three main characters here are prototypical noir characters, but they also have a bleaker undercurrent to them than most noir protagonists. That could be because they were the creation of Jim Thompson, who always creates dark stories. What complicates this film is the issue of family and relationships. It’s never easy to tell what the true relationships between all three characters are. Is what we are seeing really how the characters feel about each other? I can never be exactly sure and that’s my only problem with the film. It’s very often that I admonish praise on a score, but Elmer Bernstein’s here is a perfect film noir score. The end is 100% noir, with the characters realizing the need for survival trumps all.