It’s a subject of debate whether or not neo noir is really, importantly noir. What used to be a type of film that spoke of a life in the city as disorienting and the beginning of illusions in the mind born from it, is now merely a template and what used to be a socially conscious film that directly addressed the fabric of its world is now only cinematically conscious maneuvre. Neo noir is not so much an expression then as it is an idiom.
This is an intriguing study of that noir cosmos in cinematic terms.
We have the hapless ex-boxer schmuck who’s taken one too many beatings in the ring enter a world that seems to be lying in wait for him, specifically him to set it in motion. He’s foiled in an ensuing kidnap scheme, so far a traditional noir device where the fates pull the strings. Here comes the revision though.
By becoming aware of another scheme to which he is the victim, he’s no longer swept up in this world. The movie then presents us with a situation where by effecting control upon that pre-existing world, by realizing that he’s part of a noir narrative and that he won’t simply consign to be the cog, he imagines his own noir narrative in which the woman, his only chance for redemption, can be nothing else but the femme fatale.
This idea is born in him out of suspicion for a world he sees where no one cares or loves. This world, which the femme fatale codifies with her presence in film noir, is here refuted by the actual woman thought to be the femme fatale - instead, she represents the salvation of a genuine contact.
We share for all this his point of view. Meaning his shifting role from puppet to puppeteer is experienced internally. This is the difference for me between the lesser neo-noirs, mere ornamental homages like Body Heat or LA Confidential, and the important ones. That what used to be experienced as a cruel world in traditional film noir is now transferred inside the mind, where the noir conventions manifest as illusions and chimeras. Lynch does this in his films and also Memento. In a roundabout way, these films (especially Lynch) give us the genesis of noir inside the head of the author, the creation myth behind the world where the hapless shmuck is foiled by the fates.
The intelligent design of this is greatly hampered by a last minute twist, a simple cruelty as we often find in Jim Thompson. He was adept at the randomly cruel potboiler where morality is a thin veneer violently scraped away, but here I find it stands in the way.