The Neo-Noirs

Noir in the Nineties (Sometimes the Eyes Don’t Have It)

The private eye film seems to be an increasingly rare animal, but the nineties saw a major rebirth of the crime film. Some of these were small, cash-in-the-empties indie productions, barely appearing in theatres before rushing to video or cable, and others were big budget Oscar bait, but they all proved that the great tradition of the crime film, Grade A, B or sometimes C, was not dead.

Some of the following even reached a mass audience, and certainly helped shape crime fiction for the next few decades, as anyone who’s sat through readings at a Noir at the Bar can attest to.


  • ONE FALSE MOVE | Buy the DVD | Watch it now!
    (1991, IRS Media)
    Directed by Carl Franklin
    Screenplay by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton
    Starring Bill Paxton, Michael Beach, Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams, Jim Metzler, Earl Billings
    An Arkansas sheriff tangles with a killer. Billy Bob Thornton, who also wrote the screenplay, appears as a lowlife.
  • RESERVOIR DOGS | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1992, Live  America/Dog Eat Dog Productions)
    Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
    Directed by Quentin Tarantino
    Starring Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Bunker, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Penn, Lawrence Tierney, Quentin Tarantino
    A heist goes wrong, very wrong. First time director Tarrantino knocks one over the fence first time out, and pisses off half the world.
  • RED ROCK WEST | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1993, Propaganda Films/PolyGram)
    Screenplay by John Dahl
    Directed by John Dahl
    Starring Nicholas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, J.T. Walsh, DwightYoakam
    After his debut Kill Me Again, Dahl aimed a little higher with this one about a down-on-his-luck drifter (Cage) who wanders into a small town and is mistaken for a hired killer. I hate when that happens…
  • THE LAST SEDUCTION | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1994, ITC)
    Screenplay by Steve Barancik
    Directed by John Dahl
    Starring Linda Fiorentino, Peter Berg, Bill Pullman
    A stone cold masterpiece; a cold, tight, moody, character-driven B-flick of desperation and desire, bad choices and worse luck, as a femme fatale goes on a holy war against any man who stands in her way.
  • PULP FICTION | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1994, Miramax, A Band Apart, Jersey Films)
    Screenplay byQuentin Tarantino & Roger Avary
    Directed by Quentin Tarantino
    Starring Samuel Jackson, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi
    Tarrantino proves Reservoir Dogs wasn’t a fluke. Crime film ground zero for the nineties, a glorious regurgitation of a million B movie  and pulp fiction tropes, featuring  chatty hitmen, a boxer, a fixer, a gangster & his wife, and a pair of lovey-dovey diner bandits circling the Big Sleep. In the process, Tarantino also digs up John Travolta’s corpse of a career and has fun with it.
  • THE USUAL SUSPECTS | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1995, PolyGram/Spelling Films/Blue Parrot/Bad Hat Harry Productions/Rosco Film GmbH)
    Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie
    Directed by Bryan Singer
    Starring Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, Giancarlo Esposito, Dan Hedaya
    After a bloody gun battle, the sole survivor is interrogated anfd spills the beans on the events that lead to it.
  • GET SHORTY | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1995, MGM/Jersey Films)
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
    Starring John Travolta, Dennis Farrina, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo
    Instead of breaking a Hollywood producer’s legs, loanshark Chili Palmer decides to go into business with him.
    Written and directed by Andy Wachowski & Larry Wachowski
    Starring Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano
    The girls go wild, in this sexy, steamy, sapphic take on noir. 
    Written by Ethan Coen
    Directed by Joel Coen
    Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi
    Morning sickness, wood chippers, snow and more. This one nabbed an Oscar for Best Movie.
  • LA CONFIDENTIAL | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1997, Regency Enterprises/The Wolper Organization/Warner Bros.)
    Based on the novel by James Ellroy
    Directed by Curtis Hanson
    Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Bassinger, Danny DeVito
    It’s 1950s Los Angeles. Everyone into the cesspool!
  • JACKIE BROWN | Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1997, Miramax/A Band Apart/Mighty Mighty Afrodite Productions)
    Based on the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
    Directed by Quentin Tarantino
    Starring Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda, Samuel Jackson
    Tarrantino slows down the pace, and shows he may just be around for a while. He also brings back seventies actors Pam Grier and Robert Forster to star, and tosses DeNiro, Keaton, Fonda and Jackson into the mix. Alas, Quentin subsequently disappeared up his own ego for several films after this…
Preliminary list respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.

Leave a Reply