Saturday, July 23, 2011

Night Train (2009)

Night Train is a rare thing, a really good film that can be considered a real film noir, despite being made in color.

Yes, I’m one of those people who feels that film noir’s should be in black and white. Say what you will there is something about the interplay of light and shadow that is so much better in black and white, at least as far as noir is concerned. Sadly these days most people dislike it and if what I’ve heard is correct you really can’t get film printed in monochrome. Ah well…

My problem with color films that attempt to do noir is that the mood never is there*. Sure they get the tropes of crime, doomed romance and cynicism right, they just don’t get the mood right. The films are too bright, too colorful, even in the night scenes. As I said about the interplay with light and shadow is all wrong.

Night Train on the other hand manages to get it right.

The short version of the plot has several passengers and a conductor on a night train deciding to take the brief case of a deceased passenger. It’s full of diamonds and they figure he won’t need them. To that end they take pains to make it look like he was never on board, but in true noir fashion complications arise both with disposing of the body and with greed.

The cast is great with Danny Glover as the conductor, Steve Zahn as a passenger and Leelee Sobieski as the femme fatale. It’s thanks to their efforts that the film actually works.

Also helping things work is the fact that the film was shot in front of green screens and there is computer manipulation of some of the images. Normally I dislike the unreality that over manipulation creates, but here it works. Here it creates it’s own little world. It breaks down the rule that film noir must (should) be in black and white and proves it wrong, or at least creates an exception.

In all honesty this isn’t a great film, I know when I first saw this film several years ago I liked it but I didn’t hold it in high enough regard to warrant a review here. Then over time I found I was still carrying the film around with me in my head, I still recommended it and I still thought about. Any film that stays with me when other, “better” films have faded is good in my book.

Out on DVD and on cable. It’s worth a look.

* The general exception to the film noir not working in color tends to be the films based on the books of Jim Thompson.(The Grifters or say After Dark My Sweet. However they tend to be closer to the literary noir or a neo noir that the down beat films of the 60’s and 70’s created.

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