Film noir is built on things that go wrong; plans are scuppered, the gun jams, love goes up in smoke. Anti-heroes don’t even have good intentions to fall back on. They’re ravenously selfish, so it’s tough arguing they don’t deserve their fate. Luckily, people don’t watch noirs to empathize with the protagonists (unless they’ve just ripped off a bank); people watch noirs to feel better about their mistakes. Take Julia, a new noir with a drunk as its heroine. She has all the control over her life that a hand-grenade has. Even as her crime sets in motion, you picture her face on the evening news. She’s alluringly doomed, like every girl in this no-luck genre.
What does it mean to be a man on screen in 2007? Years ago it was about stoicism, swagger, a little of Bogart and a bit of Errol Flynn. These days – post-90s, post-New Man, post-“feelings” – men on screen are windswept by the world, unfastened. Does anyone honestly look at Zach Braff and say “that’s the kind of man I’d like to be?” Of course not. Being a man on screen in 2007 is about being confused or being boyish for the most part. That is, unless you’re George Clooney. His new movie Michael Clayton might not be the best damn thing in legal thrillers, but it’s close. Better yet, it puts a man on screen who doesn’t shed a tear nor throw a single punch.