Few styles are more distinctive than that of film noir. The disillusioned gumshoes, seductive femme fatales, dark alleyways and darker motives are instantly recognizable, particularly when shot in shadow at odd angles. At first, the idea of transposing film noir from the city underworld to the suburban high school seems little more than a clever conceit, a gimmick, but writer-director Rian Johnson makes it work in Brick.
Watching The Third Man for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of déjà vu. Anyone who has ever read anything about film noir is going to recognize Orson Welles’ first dramatic appearance, the scene of the Ferris wheel, the chase sequence through the sewers, the line about the cuckoo clock, and the beautifully odd zither score. Often, that kind of familiarity makes actually watching the film in question anticlimactic, but that wasn’t the case for me with The Third Man.
Inside Man opens with a long shot of an old-fashioned roller coaster. The roller coaster, of course, is a familiar metaphor for the thriller, so the shot (accompanied, oddly, by a jaunty Bollywood number) reads like a promise of high-tension and a truly spectacular climax.
The movie certainly has its share of twists, but it never builds enough energy or momentum to be a roller coaster. The pleasure of Inside Man is the details, the quirks that make it a Spike Lee joint rather than a generic heist pic.