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The Concept of Film Noir Essay

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Updated: May 7th, 2019

One of the most praised and seen movie genres, “Film noir” is considered as a remarkable and classic movie form by the audience. Film noir is that movie form in which dark and criminal events are showed to the audiences.

This form serves as a revolutionary genre in Hollywood movies as it played a vital role in changing the tradition of sunny, optimistic and commercial movies after World War II. The term “Film Noir” was coined by the French critics in order to criticize and evaluate those movies which are dark, pessimistic, negative, and serious i.e. different from the usual commercialized cinema.

There are some of the apparent characteristics of film genre. In particular, film noir has some of its distinctive features as well. In this paper, we shall discuss two silent features of film noir namely style and narrative structure. We shall elaborate such features through the analysis of movie LA Confidential that is categorized in film noir genre.

This was authenticated by Foster Hirsch who is known for his brilliant work as an analyst who used to analyze the most original genre of American cinema ‘Film Noir’ in his classic way. He evaluated that: “Noir deals with criminal activity, from a variety of perspectives, in a general mood of dislocation and bleakness which earned the style its name.

Unified by a dominant tone and sensibility, the noir canon constitutes a distinct style of film-making; but it also conforms to gender requirements since it operates within a set of narrative and visual conventions…. Noir tells its stories in a particular way, and in a particular visual style. The repeated use of narrative and visual structures….certainly qualifies noir as a genre, one that is in fact as heavily coded as the western” (Conard & Porfirio, 2007, pp. 9-10).

The inventers and those who supported the genre and write many movies on this were strongly opposed by the government in the post war period as there were lots of reasons behind this.

Cain, the writer of Double Indemnity was terribly criticized by the Production Code Administration (PCA) which was against the depiction of lawlessness and acts of demoralization to the audiences. So, in this way the genre of Film Noir was greatly opposed as it was injecting a negative thought in people that one can do anything for the sake of self indulgence and material satisfaction (Staudler, 2005).

The most prominent feature of film noir genre is its style that is influenced by social change in American society in post war era. The stylistic feature portrays doomed heroes, manipulating people, personal and political agendas of characters. Moreover, the stylistic feature projects dark light sets which create long and wide shadows, disturbed and uncomfortable atmosphere and are usually dragged.

Other than this a prominent quality of this genre is the development of negative behaviors in heroes or ant-heroes usually generated by Femme Fatale which is the depiction of Women in Film Noirs in a way which has never seen by the audience previously. This kind of women is different, thrilling and serve as an illicit desire for Men.

Conclusively, these features of Style in Film Noir can be precisely considered as the salient feature used in the story projection of this genre. Stylistic feature is greatly visible in various Film Noirs in the past. One of the most notable examples include “L.A. Confidential” (1997) directed by Curtis Hanson show these features in order to present the original idea of Film Noir.

L.A. Confidential shows the evil and personal desires of different people related to different backgrounds. It bears the characters of a typical film noir which includes criminal activities and lethal women engagements within criminal groups. The city shown in the movie serves as the combating zone of human insights.

The story is about some cops, their crimes and the guilt which they are carrying in their hearts. The style of the film is like a typical film noir i.e. dull and slow but interesting. The cinematographers have done every possible effort in order to bring originality in the movie. The movie atmosphere is dim with fewer colors and the characters have usually awkward gestures and style of clothing. (Arthur, 2008).

Another feature of film noir is the narrative structure which means a lot to a film noir genre. The characterizations are done in such a way that the people who play those characters become the source of story narration.

The narrative structures are different in different movies. Sometimes the screenplay’s voice-over adds a special essence in storytelling which also acts as a source of putting intensity and quality to the movie. Also, sometimes the film’s voice-over addresses are done by a specific person who narrates the story throughout the film. This narration is spoken in a deadpan way by which the story seems more interesting to the audience (Staudler, 2005).

The narrative style used in L.A. Confidential is descriptive and mind captivating. For example, the entry of Ed Exley, an ambitious and concerned cop in a crime scene shows the descriptive narrative structure when the camera focuses on each and every details of the entire grimy objects from ashtrays to the torn register.

Means, the cinematographers have paid attention to every character and even to the minor things which are although not related to the main story theme but they do play an important part in the narration of story. This means that narration in L.A. Confidential is done usually through the visuals of a scene.

By giving importance to the minor things the director has tried to give the whole explanation which is commendable. Another style of narration used in other film noirs is the narration through any of the character. For example in Double Indemnity the voice-over of the story is not the camera but a character from the film. An insurance investigator, Barton Keyes, narrates the whole plot of the story throughout the film (Staudler, 2005).

L.A. Confidential although depicts the confused moods of fifties but it also updates its theme by showing all possible contemporary cultural obsession. It presents government, law enforcement and organized crime as the three interlinked forms. According to the creator of the story these three forms are interconnected with each other and each has common goals and brutal business tactics. They can do anything to victimize the city’s underclass (Arthur, 2008).

The movie L.A. Confidential has all the features of a film noir and presents briefly a clear idea about the style and narrative structure used in the film. The story is quite different from the usual film noirs but it has many variations which and mind captivating characteristics which attract the audience. L.A. confidential has provided information about this genre to the audience by showing them the original features.

The new thing in this movie was the depiction of a brief account of crimes by the government officials not the common people. Other than this, the movie makers like the other film noirs have again incorporated their suggestions about the evil desires of human and their devilish plots in this movie which clarifies the fact that man can descend to any level in order to achieve his goals (Arthur, 2008).

Although this genre of film making was opposed to a high extent but originally it is a way of depicting real life incidents. The stories and characters are made on the basis of real life happenings. Writer Cain (Double Indemnity) has also taken example from his own life and clarified that although this genre seems controversial and is something which is showing things which can have a demoralizing impact on people but in actual these are the hard realities of life which the Hollywood movies are trying to show to the people.


Arthur, P. (2008). L.A. Confidential. New York: Cineaste Publishers.

Conard, M., & Porfirio, R. (2007). The Philosophy of Film Noir. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

Staudler, G. (2005). Doble Indemnity, Hard-Boil Film Noir. New York, London.: W.W.Norton&Company.

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