I can't say I'd recommend this film to anyone who usually follows me here -- it's a hard R film with lots of bad language, nudity, sex, etc. -- but this neo-noir film amuses me greatly, so I'll review it here anyway. I caught it on Netflix's streaming video a few months back, loved it so much, I immediately bought a copy of the DVD the very next day. I watched the DVD yesterday evening for my second viewing.
When I saw it the first time, the first thing that I loved was the fact that the film had opening credits! Full-on opening credits. Woo! Then the film begins, and I thought I was watching a re-make of Murder, My Sweet. The hero, a private detective named Ned Cruz (played superbly by Antonio Banderas), blinded, is sitting in an interrogation room with three cops. He's concerned about a woman, but none of the cops will tell him if she's okay until he tells them what happened to get him in this mess. The movie is mostly told in flashback, with Cruz narrating his story. The case Cruz was working on was locating a missing stripper for a giant of a man just released from prison. Things rapidly get complicated (as they do in Murder, My Sweet), this time with Russian mobsters, diamonds, and most uniquely -- with a reclusive billionaire who's built himself his own private particle accelerator under a town in New Mexico. Seriously. It's awesome.
This movie takes the classic old school detective movie formula and mixes it up with a bunch of physics! And it does it with a lot love and respect for old noir films from all involved, with the end result: a movie that satisfied my love of old movies with some new, interesting twists. Sure, I absolutely could have done without the language and graphic images, but I liked the rest enough to really enjoy it anyway. The first time I saw it, I wasn't expecting the physics angle, and the more references that kept popping up (a warehouse called Schrodingers, Planck's Constant Cafe, etc,), the wider I kept grinning. I used to work in the Physics & Astronomy dept at college, so this stuff is familiar and right up my alley.
So what do I love about this movie?
Well, first off, the cast. Two of my favorite modern actors star in this: Antonio Banderas and Thomas Kretschmann. They're why I watched the film in the first place, and both were great. Kretschmann, Delroy Lindo, and William Fichtner play the three cops, and they're all perfect, all distinct characters. Sam Elliott plays the crazy, obsessed billionaire, Sienna Guillory is the missing lady, and Robert Maillet plays Banderas's 7-foot-tall client. Everyone of them, and the other actors I didn't mention, fit their roles very nicely.
Second -- I really really love the way this movie is filmed. It uses color, smoke, and geometric shapes the way a b&w noir film would have. It's lovely, surreal, and since so many modern films seem to be flat and monochrome, the vivid colors here are a breath of beautiful, fresh air. I love that in the interrogation room, the colors are black, grey, or white (clothes/walls/etc.), where the flashbacks are all colors: vivid yellows, reds, blues, purples. It's a striking contrast that subtly feeds the narrative. The camera angles, the juxtaposition of circles and squares and triangles in just about every shot, the set decorations... all give this the feel of a noir film. Cruz's detective office has the classic neon sign outside flashing red letters. Love it! The houses at the end of the film seem almost like a bit of an homage to the beach house in Kiss Me Deadly.
Third -- I love that Ned Cruz is a true good guy, in the old sense. He's honest, he does his job well (even when he doesn't like what he's doing), he's smart, and he figures things out. He does his best to protect his client and make things come out right. His detective character was quite refreshing.
Fourth -- the plot gets more and more entertaining as it goes along, as the missing person's case intertwines with the billionaire's design to be the first to see the God particle. The wild finale was crazy and wonderful and just exactly right for what came before. (There is an epilogue that feels a bit tacked on, though. I kind of wish it ended before that, after this last hilarious line of Banderas's.)
Anyway, the dialogue is sharp and quite a few of the lines made me laugh out loud. I read some reviews and some people had trouble catching all the dialogue, and yes, Banderas's accent seems a bit thicker than normal, but I didn't have any trouble understanding him. Kretschmann is German, so this is a movie filled with lots of lovely accents. One of my favorite lines is from Banderas to Kretschmann: "We're just two migrant workers in the land of opportunity." LOL. My other favorite line (from Krestchmann) makes little sense out of context, but it makes me laugh and grin just thinking about it: "See, I like my aftershave, and I like the color of my shoes..." and I can't quote the rest because it might be a bit of a spoiler.
And I also love the Burma Shave signs.