“A humble businessman with a buried past seeks justice when his daughter is killed in an act of terrorism. A cat-and-mouse conflict ensues with a government official, whose past may hold clues to the killers’ identities.”
Jackie Chan, star of Martial Arts movies such as Project A (1983), Police Story (1985) and Armour of God I and II, stars as Quan Ngoc Minh; a Chinese single parent, living in England with his only daughter. Pierce Brosnan, former James Bond, is Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, Liam Hennessy, a former IRA member who is publicly open about his past but now in his later years, is keen to keep the peace accord in place. In the opening, Quan’s young teenage daughter is killed in a terrorist bomb attack – the quiet man sets out on a vendetta to find his daughter’s killers.
I have been watching Jackie Chan movies since the early 80s, and am very familiar with his fast-paced action style, his well-publicised injuries during filming, his comedic roles and Buster Keatonesque scenarios. So this was a bit of a mental adjustment. Chan is now 63 years old and although he cannot do the ridiculous acrobatics he performed in his earlier films, he can still move with astonishing speed – when he needs to. I was totally impressed with his physical stamina; and this film does have some pretty harsh fight scenes. He is mostly pitted against men who are twenty to thirty years his junior and is tripped, thrown and felled to a degree you wonder how his ageing body can take it.
However, what affected me most was his very moving performance as a deeply distraught father who simply wants the names of his child’s murderers. He drifts like a ghost, stands in his daughters bedroom and stares, he shuffles like an old man. When his offer to pay the police for the names of the bombers is refused, he decides to take matters into his own hands. And here; along with the First Minister, we discover Quan’s history. It is both tragic and fearsome – the Minister and his men are tested repeatedly by this quiet foreigner who wants, not only justice, but revenge.
The film is interesting for its pitting two older men against one another; neither are completely innocent; both have violent pasts. There is a resilience one could call stubbornness in both men. Both have their own moral codes that one could say have become rigid. There are thrilling fight scenes, but not so many – this is mature martial arts – when Chan is knocked flat on his back on a rooftop my ageing bones empathised. This is also the first time I have ever seen Chan cry.
It’s an oddity too. The bad guys are Irish, or more precisely, the IRA. The IRA ceasefire was called about 20 years ago, so to someone who grew up in England during The Troubles, with Irish parents, it seems dated. Plus, there are moments in the film in which some characters refer to Chan’s character as ‘the Chinaman’ – I couldn’t decide if it was racist, a hint that Brits and Irish are racist, a nod to the original novel title, or lazy updating of terms. Some of Hennessy’s henchmen can come across as a little too predictable, too generic and the theme could said to be dated – but – I did enjoy it; if enjoy is the right word to use for such a dark, troubled and sad film.
I love Film Noir. As a child, I spent many a summer’s day ensconced in a darkened room watching old movies in the middle of the day – a time when very few watched TV in those days – and the ‘unpopular’ stuff was shown; old black and white films, public information films, or in some instances, a potters wheel! (Yes kids, British TV had a black and white film of a lump of clay, and we watched it!)
Film Noir is an extension of the Gangster film; Gangster films had been seen less on the screen and returned as this genre; re-categorised by critics. However, most of their appeal came after they were made, not the time they were made. The main influence came from France around pre- WWII. French critics coined the phrase ‘Film Noir’, Black Film; seen as crime, mystery’s, melodramas. Beginning with a small group of films such as : “The Killers”, 1946 and “Double Indemnity”, 1944.
As time progressed more films fell under the heading Film Noir; it is a flexible category.
From the late 1970s onwards saw a Neo Noir revival, with Noirish elements: “Body Heat”, 1981 and “Basic Instinct”, 1992 and the animated “Sin City”, 2005.
But for this essay, I’m focusing only on the older style.
In 1940s America everything was in short supply; film, batteries, even writers, so the film makers looked to pulp fiction for new ideas.
Many of the films were made by European émigrés; escaping from Nazi German oppression. In a time of darkness created by Hitler, film makers, technicians and writers on the run from Europe, brought their style with them. There wouldn’t have been Film Noir without WWII. There was an influx of immigrants to America and they brought ‘German Expressionism’ a style with skewed angles and dark style. The Nazi figures were transformed into gangsters in the films. In the 60s and 70s – people started to see them as Art films, not just popular money makers. “Big Heat”, 1953, by Fritz Lange is now regarded as an Artistic Film Noir.
What makes a Gangster film a Noir film?
There are strong psychological themes present, women of character, complicated plot lines. It is a world mostly devoid of children. Unhappy worlds, dark, urban more so than gangster films, the characters are trapped by their environment. Described by one critic as a “Dark American place with a fancy name”. Noir films were not the property of one studio, it had it’s own rules. Though the films are black and white, the characters are often groping around in a fog, things are not black and white in decision making, European music add to the tension; threat, danger. For an American audience in this period, this was all pretty dark stuff.
Who populates these films?
Everyone is bent, men women, and coppers: the heroine is a predator even when the victim, often a blonde, a femme fatale, desirable, sexy, untrustworthy, and slutty. The hero is her lunch and usually knows it. Women get their power through sexuality. Robert Mitchum in “Out of The Past”, 1947, is a typical Noir hero. The hero often has been to war, has some psychosis, they are hapless. Bogart’s characters often cannot connect, even when they are in love. Men and women in Noir never reach the daylight in their lives. Real men get to show their softer side with these women, without appearing weak. Men were manipulated, women were dodgy and manipulative. Many well known actors and actresses emerged in this period, Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, to name a few. Women emerge in their own right post war, reflecting the social changes. Men were damaged by wartime experiences; Post traumatic Stress Disorder; in the film “Blue Dahlia”, 1946, the ‘hero’ is a harmless guy, returned from war, everyone likes him, but he’s a serial killer. There is often a simmering tension between the hero and female, we watch a verbal tennis match going on between them, sometimes they might never even get that first kiss. The best example of this witty, sultry banter can be most often seen between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart (who became a couple off screen too); full of euphemism and innuendo.
What does it look like?
Dark! Mostly urban. Cigarettes, rainy streets, shadows, lipstick, guns. There is little or no sunlight in these films; lighting carves up the scene and the faces with chiaroscuro. Shadows are tall and menacing to enhance the atmosphere. Many cinematographers had been filming in the war effort and brought back with them elements of that, in the mid 1950s they began to make the films more realistic.
Why do we like them?
The audience appeal lies in that the films mostly take place in an ordinary environment; previous films such as Westerns took themselves off to deserts and canyons; not places the audience regularly inhabited so had less to relate to. But in Noir, the people have adventures; we see their unhappiness so we feel better; one could reflect that, at least my life isn’t that bad. Male viewers see quiet men, strong men who can take care of themselves, when required, who yet fall for the charms of the femme fatale. Female viewers were suddenly exposed to female characters who could often stand up for themselves; not the helpless little wifey this one. There was a kind of glamour portrayed in the dialogue, the male/female relationships and clothing.
What should I watch if I have never seen Film Noir?
Out of the Past 1947/ Sweet Smell of Success 1957/ Double Indemnity 1944/ The Big Sleep 1946/The Maltese Falcon 1941/ Sunset Boulevard 1950/ Murder my Sweet 1944/Gun Crazy 1950/ T-Men 1948/ Touch of Evil 1958/ Stranger on the Third Floor 1940/ Sweet Smell of Success 1957/ Gilda 1946/ Kiss Me deadly 1955.
Noir is also famous for its dialogue and snappy lines. Much dialogue, especially in Philip Marlowe films (Raymond Chandler author) is really funny – but ain’t nobody laughing. Here’s a few you might like to use!
“Keep on riding me and they’re going to be picking iron out of your liver.” Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon.
“Okay Marlowe,” I said to myself, ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough—like putting your pants on.” Philip Marlowe in Murder My Sweet.
“You know what he’ll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.” Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep.
Johnny: “Doesn’t it bother you at all that you’re married?” Gilda: “What I want to know is, does it bother you?” Johnny and Gilda in Gilda.
“With my brains and your looks, we could go places.” Frank Chambers in The Postman Always Rings Twice.
“I wouldn’t give you the skin off a grape.” Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death.
“Well, you’re about as romantic as a pair of handcuffs.” Debby Marsh in The Big Heat.
“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
“She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.” Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep
And now…. We have Nordic Noir – the name given to the new literature, TV and film we see more and more now with programmes like “The Killing”, from Denmark and Sweden.
You might also like “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, the Film Noir parody starring Steve Martin, which you could class as Comedy Noir, I suppose, if such a thing exists!
Published : 2007, Hodder & Stoughton.
YOU CAN TELL A LIAR BY HIS EYES.
Special Agent Kathryn Dance reads people the way other investigators read crime scenes.
But she’s never seen eyes like Daniel Pell’s. Back cover blurb.
I have been a fan of crime fiction; and non-fiction, since my late teens. My habit was to read a book and if I enjoyed it I would then acquire and devour everything published by this author. My only surprise, to myself, is that I have neglected my crime reading in recent years, returning to it this year with Jeffery Deaver’s The Empty Chair. Also, I realised I had never written a review of a crime novel. So here goes.
Even if you have never read one of Deaver’s books, you may be familiar with his work as many have been turned into films:
Dead Silence (1997) starring James Garner. The Bone Collector (1999) starring Denzil Washington and Angelina Jolie.
The Devils Teardrop (2010) starring Tom Everett Scott and Natasha Henstridge.
The Sleeping Doll introduces a new detective; Agent Kathryn Dance, a widow with two young children who works for the Californian Bureau of Investigation, “Like an FBI for the state.” Dance is a specialist in interrogation and reading body language, so we get, not only her analysis of a criminal but of some of those around her in her working and private life. In this way, Deaver uses this as a tool for the reader to have a window onto the minds of other characters without having to head hop and it works really well, as not only do we get this inkling into another characters possible feelings, but we spend over half the book in the mind of Kathryn Dance – and considering the line of work she does, it is not an unpleasant place to be. For the rest of it, we enter the thoughts of Daniel Pell…
The Sleeping Doll of the title refers to a little girl (who is a teenager when the story begins), who survived a murderous assault on her family because she was asleep amongst her toys; hidden. The perpetrator of the crime, Daniel Pell, is currently serving time in a Correctional Facility. Dance has come to interview Pell regarding a newly uncovered crime. Pell has never spoken about his involvement in the ‘sleeping doll’ murders, and neither has the surviving child.
Dance recognises a Svengali type personality in Pell, who’s chilling blue eyes are equally taking the measure of Agent Dance as she does his.
Dance is smart, capable and strong, she is going to need to be on peak form when Pell escapes, leaving a bloody trail in his wake.
Deaver is a great storyteller who engages his readers without any superfluous text. He gets straight down to business; much in the manner of Kathryn Dance, and keeps us hoping and guessing all the way through. He nearly always adds a twist in the end of his tales, and The Sleeping Doll is no exception. I’m a great one for trying to second guess who did what, to whom and many times I’m pretty close.