The hard-boiled detective movies of the 1940s and '50s, known as films noirs, are identifiable by certain conventions and traits: the cynical wisecracking detective, the femme fatale, the dark subject matter, high contrast lighting and oblique angles.
These have recently been used to good effect in the film adaptation of some of Frank Miller's Sin City books, with the overlapping stories told in an ultra-stylised way to stay faithful to the source material. Apparently the script for Film Noir by Serbian émigré D. Jud Jones (a pseudonym that will apparently only be used for this film) was in existence for a long time and the film had been in development since 2001 so it can't be accused of riding on the coat tails of Robert Rodriguez's 2005 film.
The film begins under the big sign on the Hollywood Hills where a man, for the sake of avoiding spoilers I'll call him Hero, wakes up next to a dead cop. The gun lying next to him feels good in his hand and fits his holster yet he can't remember who he is, how he got their and why he may have shot the cop. The odd thing is that different people know him by different names, some don't recognise him in person but then know his name when he answers the phone and people are trying to kill him, lots of people.
It's up to our protagonist to figure out who he is, why he can't remember anything and who wants him dead.
This began its life as a 2D project but eventually morphed into 3D animation, all hand drawn and monochrome apart from the blood, neon signs and some lips and eyes. It is comparable to Sin City and, to a lesser extent, Renaissance in this respect. The picture is good, with very inky blacks and bright reds, especially the blood although watching it I couldn't help but think how much better it would look in high definition as the odd line faded out.
The animation style is a little odd, it looks rotoscoped like A Scanner Darkly but this has been drawn from scratch, isn't as detailed and the movement isn't quite realistic - 'Hero's' running style reminded me a little of Silent Hill on the PS2 - jerky and exaggerated.
The audio is true to the film title and all the genre conventions it references with a gravelly voiced hero narrating through voiceover and a jazz infused soundtrack by Mark Keller, who also voices Hero. You have the choice of 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo and the surround is by far the better as the surrounds are used well, especially in the scenes with a helicopter or whenever there's a gunfight or explosion.
As is increasingly the case with Optimum releases, there are no subtitles.
The History of Film Noir featurette is about the film, not the genre, and traces the roots of the project, including the first 15 minutes or so of the original 2D animation style and the original trailer.
The Interview with Jud Jones runs at over half an hour and he explains how the movie came about, why he uses a pseudonym, where his love of film came from and what he expects to do next.
The Audio Sessions piece is only 4 minutes long and shows how one scene was voiced. It ends with Mark Keller belting out the theme song in a recording booth.
There is also the trailer which rounds out a decent package which, aside from interviews with the cast and animators, isn't really missing anything. The interview is by far the most informative of the extras and covers everything that would have gone into a commentary track.
I really like films noirs, though I have problems with it being called a genre, considering it more a movement and so loved the way that Frank Miller played with the clichés in the Sin City graphic novels and the way they turned out in the film adaptation. Film Noir will always be compared to Sin City and probably stay in its shadow - they are both dark, funny and sexy films with a degree of animation - in Sin City it's just the backgrounds whereas Film Noir is entirely animated. They are also both violent, contain nudity and have anti-heroes as protagonists.
The style of the film varies from scene to scene as the character designs are basic, leading to scenes just involving people to be simplistic, but then the backgrounds can be extraordinarily detailed, looking almost realistic and providing a great deal of depth. The direction is faithful to the noir traditions, as is the story and script which contains some witty lines amongst the fairly complex material though it never gets overly confusing. I had the identification part of the story figured out fairly early on but, once that's sorted in the narrative, it takes another turn that has you scratching your head once again. The sex and violence are fairly explicit, making the 18 certificate fully justified, but it is contextualised in the story so isn't exploitative.
The voice acting is very good, with Mark Keller's dulcet tones perfect for the amnesiac cop killer and veteran voice actor Roger Jackson really showing off his vocal range, voicing no fewer than twelve characters.
As D. Jud Jones is one of a number of aliases that the writer/director uses, I have no idea if this is his first or tenth film - he didn't give anything away in the interview, only saying that this will be the only film by D. Jud Jones as he doesn't want to be pigeonholed and defined by his filmography. Regardless of his experience (or otherwise), this is an enjoyable and well made movie which, if you liked Sin City or are a film noir fan, this is well worth a look.