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10 Outstanding Neo-Noirs of the 2000s

Tyler Searle . . . Comments

From the early 1940s to the late 1950s, “Film Noir” dominated Hollywood. It was an era in which the film industry in the United States became greatly influenced by the “Hardboiled Fiction” novels that had grown out of the Great Depression; a literary style characterized by a tough and uncompromising view of crime that often included gratuitous references to violence and sex. Many of the novels of the time would be adapted into films, including such lasting classics as The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Some key characteristics of Film Noir include:

-A specific visual style characterized by low-key lighting, deep shadows, and obscuring camera angles.
-Disorientation through plot devices such as a non-linear plot line, an unreliable narrator, or flashbacks.
-A sense of impending doom or hopelessness.
-Stories about crime, either from the perspective of the criminal or the investigator. These crimes often include robberies, heists, or crimes of passion such as murder or suicide.
-Morally questionable protagonists that are not portrayed in a sympathetic light. They may be mentally unstable, corrupt, have a criminal background, or be involved with criminals.
-The “femme fatale” – a mysterious and seductive love interest who often leads the hero into compromising positions. She is not necessarily a bad person, although she is most often portrayed in an unflattering light.

Despite the classic Film Noir Period being put to rest at the end of the 1950s, the style and characteristics of the time period still influence Hollywood films to this day. The following is a list of ten outstanding films from the year 2000 or later that feature many of the characteristics of classic Noir cinema.


Black Swan

Starting off we have a psychological thriller that some may find controversial to include on this list. I would contend, however, that the dark journey into the psyche of our female lead is directly in line with the path of impending doom that is a cornerstone of classic Noir films. Right from the beginning, a feeling of despair permeates the screen and does not let go. Outside of crime drama, Film Noir often turned towards performers and their inner demons to create intense drama out of feelings of inadequacy and egotism (classics such as The Big Knife (1955) and Sunset Blvd. (1950) come to mind). The intense results that this can produce are powerfully portrayed in Black Swan’s ongoing struggle between Nina (Natalie Portman) and her ballet rival Lily (Mila Kunis). Despite twisting the more commonly seen “male seduced by female” structure of Noir cinema, Kunis’ seduction of Portman is a classic femme fatale at work. The only question is, did it really happen?

Key Film Noir Aspects: Feeling of Despair, Mental Instability, Femme Fatale


The Lookout

The Lookout makes the list with a classic Film Noir plot line: our “hero,” in this case Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), gets mixed up with the wrong crowd and unwittingly finds himself at the center of a heist. The exploitation of the lead character through his feelings for the aptly named Luvlee (Isla Fisher) is a great look at the powers of the femme fatale at work. This is one of the more uncomfortable films on the list, as you can’t help but sympathize with Chris’ exploitation after learning through his narration early in the film that he has difficulties with day-to-day interactions after receiving brain trauma in a car accident. The Lookout, in a lot of ways, can be compared to the classic Scarlet Street (1945) and the equally brutal exploitation of the sheepish Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson).

Key Film Noir Aspects: Criminal Actions, Femme Fatale


The Machinist

Another trip into the psychological side of Film Noir, this one is weird. Really weird. This film is probably best known for Christian Bale’s incredible commitment to the role, dropping over 60 lbs in order to believably play Trevor Reznik, our “hero” who is struggling with some serious mental issues attributed to his insomnia. It takes the entire film for us to finally get a clear picture of what exactly is going on with Trevor, and along the way we are treated to a barrage of intensely dark scenes. Some are real and some are imagined, but the line is incredibly blurred. Classic use of a dark visual style, a slowly unraveling mystery, and disorienting flashbacks make this one among the more disturbing Neo-Noirs you will ever see.

Key Film Noir Aspects: Visual Style, Mental Instability, Morally Questionable “Hero,” Disorienting Plotline



I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who has seen this film who wasn’t blown away by it. One of Christopher Nolan’s best ever, it has Noir written all over it. Murder, classic Noir visual style, an unreliable narrator and non-linear plot, you name it and it’s here. To top it all off (without giving too much away), in classic Noir style, we find out in the big twist that our “hero” was doomed from the start. A must-see for any Neo-Noir fan (or any Christopher Nolan fan for that matter).

Key Film Noir Aspects: Visual Style, Mental Instability, Unreliable Narrator, Non-Linear Plotline, Murder Mystery



Think what you want about Tom Cruise’s religious affiliations, but he is a straight-up badass in this film. While it may be true that Jamie Foxx is the real hero, if you aren’t rooting for Cruise, you must be watching a different movie. It isn’t until late into the film that we realize that the suave businessman in the back of the cab may not be as admirable as we are led to believe he is. Cruise delivers as our Morally Questionable “Hero,” and in the end, in brutal Film Noir fashion, he learns the same lesson that Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity (1944)) and other classic criminals of the ’40s and ’50s always learned: crime doesn’t pay. The seedy nightlife and back alleys of Los Angeles are the perfect backdrop for this tightly woven crime thriller.

Key Film Noir Aspects: Visual Style, Morally Questionable “Hero,” Classic Noir Ending


In Bruges

Our only entry on this list from across the pond, make no mistake about it: In Bruges is funny. Get past the witty banter and midgets, however, and this is a dark film. While the city of Bruges may not be a classic Noir setting, the dark streets and cold atmosphere certainly are. In classic style, we don’t know much about our “heroes” at the start, but through the use of a well-placed flashback and smart dialogue, we learn all we need to know. And while it starts off slow, when this one gets going there’s no turning back. Does anyone fit a role more perfectly than Ralph Fiennes does here?

Key Film Noir Aspects: Visual Style, Criminal Actions, Flashback, Morally Questionable “Heroes”


A History of Violence

AND Eastern Promises (2007). All right, I cheated a little here. Really though, either of these amazing films could fit in this spot. Both of them are directed by David Cronenberg and star Viggo Mortensen in two of his best performances put to film. History of Violence harkens back to the outstanding Robert Mitchum Noir, Out of the Past (1947), as an ex-criminal trying to forget his former life finally has his wrongdoings catch up to him. Eastern Promises is very more up-front and in-your-face with its criminal dealings, but shares the dark mood and odd sense of impending doom that are so common in Noir cinema. If you plan on watching these two, be prepared for some serious on-screen violence.

Key Film Noir Aspects: Feeling of Despair, Criminal Actions, Morally Questionable “Hero”


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

While Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is certainly a dark comedy, it is also very self-aware of its Noir style. In fact, the whole premise of the movie is almost Film Noir come to life: a private eye (played by Val Kilmer in one of my personal favorite roles of his) and bumbling companion (Robert Downey, Jr.) attempt to solve a murder that has been carried out in an eerily similar manner to a murder portrayed in a Hardboiled Fiction-esque novel. Throw in Downey, Jr’s unreliable (and at times hilarious) narration, some key flashbacks, and the beautiful Michelle Monaghan as Harmony, our classic femme fatale, and you’ve got a Film Noir through and through.

Key Film Noir Aspects: Murder Mystery, Morally Questionable “Hero,” Femme Fatale



Coming back for seconds on our list is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this time in one of the most unique, yet obvious, Neo-Noir films on this list. What would happen if we took a classic Noir murder mystery, complete with characters, visual style, and dialogue straight out of the 1950s, but placed it into a modern day high school setting? Welcome to Brick, a direct homage to Film Noir with a New Millennium, young-adult twist. Rian Johnson knew exactly what he was looking for when he wrote and directed this one, breathing classic Noir characteristics into this film right down to 1950s vernacular. Don’t let the youth of the characters fool you, though: this is as dark and twisted a mystery as any of the films on this list.

Key Film Noir Aspects: Visual Style, Murder Mystery, Classic Noir Dialogue



It may start out a little slow-paced for some, but if you give Drive a chance, you’ll be glad you did. When I first saw this one, Ryan Gosling’s performance became an instant classic in my mind. If you’re wondering what Humphrey Bogart would look like in a modern day film, just watch Gosling as the nameless Driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s spellbinding film. This is a classic Noir tough guy: soft spoken, calm, thoughtful, but never on the defensive and ready to do whatever it takes at a moment’s notice. We don’t know much about our “hero” to start, and there is a sense of despair as his relationship with his gorgeous next-door neighbor and her son gets him tangled up with the wrong kind of people. It soon becomes very obvious, however, that there is a lot more to this Driver than meets the eye. When the action happens, it happens fast and doesn’t pull any punches. The Los Angeles streets and back alleys are once again a classic backdrop for the Noir visual style of this amazing film.

Key Film Noir Aspects: Feeling of Despair, Visual Style, Morally Questionable “Hero,” Criminal Actions

  • Les2point0

    I firmly believe the machinist deserves number 1. I didn’t care for a history of violence.

    • (not Frank) bluesman87

      agreed but a nice lisy regardlees

    • Metalwrath

      I liked A History of Violence. I don’t see why people wouldn’t, really, perhaps the slow pace which seems to be getting nowhere? And Ed Harris is a bad mofo, coolest actor out there.

    • Drunken Walnuts

      I would probably re-arrange the order as well to suit my personal tastes but find it hard to argue with any of these films inclusions. Even the fringe ones, the author makes a good case for. Excellent list.

    • WasabiNinja

      Granted it didn’t make the date cutoff (being released in 1997) but just want to put in a shoutout to L.A. Confidential. Probably the greatest modern adaption of the old school Noir formula.

      • Even Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi” and Nolan’s “Following” are brilliant films in this regard. Too bad they couldn’t make this list as both released in 1998.

    • GrammerNazi

      Just watched Drive, and I really enjoyed it. Brick is the only movie I have not seen that is on this list, guess I will check it out. How is A History of Violence not good? Not fast paced enough for you?

      • Trek Girl

        I loved “A History of Violence” as well. I’m not really sure what there is to dislike about it.

  • Fid

    I’ve seen half of these and they are great movies. I plan to add the rest to my list to rent, I hadn’t heard of them. Thanks!

    • Pauly

      Same here! Awesome list!

      • BOONE

        Great List, seen all but the Machinist and love most of these films. Now I plan on watching the Machinist soon.

  • formerly known as Dangsthurt

    Time to do visit Netflix…

    ….also, History of Violence sucked azz.

    • Trek Girl

      Why didn’t you like “A History of Violence”?

  • vermilionskin

    A very nice list! good taste and I like most of the movies in this list, specially Memento and the machinist.

  • Joe Momma

    Some good movies on this list. Hey where has Jfraters been? I have been looking back at the old lists and notice he used to reply to a majority of posts. I always thought it was great to see the owner/creator at work on his masterpeace. Did he sell the page or just busy at his day job fighting crime?

  • Bobby

    Where is Sin City?!?!?!?

    • Nate

      Totally as soon as I saw the title I thought of Sin City. Love all these movies except, I know I’m gonna catch hell but, Drive. I liked the film, but thought it was overhyped and a little over the top, which I was sad about because the director’s other film, Bronson, is my favorite movie of all time and ive seen a lot of movies. Great list though.

      • Chuck

        Bronson is a bada*s*s movie!

      • wrake

        You should also check out Refn’s earlier “Pusher” trilogy.

    • Tryclyde

      Don’t understand how Sin City isn’t #1 let alone not even on the list.

  • Great list! Those are all great movies. It’s surprising how little you hear about movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the Lookout, so underrated!

  • Frank

    A decent list and well written. Mind you most of the braindead ***** who read listverse wouldn’t have the intellect or attention span to appreciate these films, which aren’t even particularly high brow, mid brow at best lol. Also this is the true Frank. Looking forward to the predictable f*ggotry from failtroll imitators that follows my comments these days.

    • Bobby

      Momma always told me if you dot have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all… You using all those insults and nasty words makes you no better than the trolls that you hate so much my friend.

    • bluesman87

      Wow Frank, you gotta get out of the house more often gangsta . I’m sure when the Pulitzer prize committee want to track you down for your inspiring contributions to this forum Frater will help them find the real you . So relax buddy, or instead of taking their bait and bitching and moaning just register. Do whatever you comfortable dont worry about what others think , because they , like I, couldnt give a fuck.

    • Alex

      You don’t sound like the real Frank

      • Frank

        You don’t sound like anything except muffled grunts from your mouth being full of my c*ck!

    • Frank

      You took my name again? Agh!

      • Frank

        Agh? What the f*ck is that? You don’t even f*cking write like me you f*cking failtroll. Go and jack it to some Japanese cartoons while I bang your momma in the anus.

        • Y2

          meanwhile in loserville…

        • Frank

          U mad?

        • Maggot

          the anus

          Thank you for using the less-offensive terminology here, so as to not risk ruffling the feathers of our more sensitive readership.

          • fendabenda

            Why is one of the planets actually called “Uranus”? Was it some kind of an inside joke amongst the scientists? “Hmm… shall we call this Yo’momma or MeDick… no, now I got it! Uranus!”

        • Alex

          Aah Frank there you are.

    • bob

      Who the fuck is frank? Who gives a fuck? Nobody, and you’re an asshole.

  • MihailoSRB

    Good list, I’m gonna watch some of these that I missed viewing.

  • Missy

    I loved Black Swan. It was the best sleep I’d had in years. In Bruges was much better.

    Can’t beat Sunset Boulevard though, it was fantastic.

    • TheCapitalLettter

      The other week when I saw the Oscar nominees, I realized I had not watched any of them because the promos screamed Oscar bait. They tend to choose the most dramatic tear-dropping boring movies lately. This year: the stories of illegal immigrants, slack slaves, black and white film and trees of life.

      • brian

        They have alway chosen sappy dramas over everything else.

  • Metalwrath

    Memento also has a femme fatale. The chick, forgot the actress’ name, the one who played in Matrix, kind of abuses of the protagonist’s “condition”.

  • karl

    was sort of expecting Reqium for a Dream to pop up somewere in the list. Black Swan put me to sleep, god Natalie Portman just cant keep me interested im afraid to say. Love Memento and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, two favs on the list :)

    nice list to wake up too this morn

  • ~*Jany*~

    You are definitely missing some but it was a very good list. Hey Frank! :D IF THATS YOUR REAL NAME!

    • Frank

      Hey Jany!

      • Furanku

        Hey yo! Don’t you hit on my gyaru, you… you… visual kei!!

  • Zak

    I would like to add The Deep End, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Mulholland Dr., Road to Perdition, and The Salton Sea.

    • Jay

      After seeing The Salton Sea it INSTANTLY jumped into my top 10.

  • Will Trame

    This is a fairly good list but I prefer the film noir genre of the past century. I’m not too fond of anything released past the turn of the millennium.

  • Kal

    how the hell did you miss Dark City, that is very noir compared to half these imposters

    • squid

      that was 1998

  • MathMathAndMoreMath

    Any up and coming math lists on here?

    • Mavrick

      Here is another math trick This will work only with 7 digit Phone No. 1. Grab a ltcculaaor. (You wont be able to do this in your head)2. Key in the first three digits of your phone number (NOT the area code)3. Mutiply by 804. Add 15. Mutiply by 2506. Add the last four numbers of your phone number7. Add the last four numbers of your phone number again8. Subtract 2509. Divide number by 2 Do you recognize the answer? IS’NT IT YOUR PHONE NO:?

  • Andy

    Mulholland Drive?

    • Sbtier

      Good list. Glad to see History of Violence on the list. I think a lot of people missed this movie. Except for the odd miscasting of William Hurt as a mafioso, it was an excellent film.

  • A Doyle

    Surprised no one mentioned “The Usual Suspects” I thought that would be #1

    • Agent119

      That came out in 1995.

  • JohnSampson

    Great list but I would disagree with In Bruges. I wouldn’t have called this a noir.

  • Someguy

    I Come with the Rain ? How could this be overlooked ?

    • BOONE

      Because it was awful

      • Frank


        • Someguy

          Movies are subjective but I think a lot of people missed the subtle details throughout the entire movie: the atmosphere, the masterful ways the themes are introduced and explored, the structure, the characters. I think it is underrated compared to its value. Maybe it’s not Hollywood enough for the average movie-goer ? I thought it would be a box office smash hit to be honest

  • squid

    great list. very happy to see brick at number 2, it was the first that came to mind.

    • Tally

      I adored Brick. My roommate and I watched it and he felt that the setting wasn’t right, I however, thought it was prefect.

  • GrampaGus

    Good list. I thought Brick was overrated. The drug dealer handicap kid…terrible.

    Drive sucked too. Stupid story, boring, oh and the worst soundtrack EVER. Fortunately I had pencils to stab into my ears.

  • It may not be a movie, but the video game L.A. Noire deserves an honorable mention in my opinion.

    • fendabenda

      If we’re talking video games, maybe Max Payne 1-2 also deserve a noir mention.

  • mom424

    Great list; well reasoned and presented. And some damn fine films too. Only a couple I’ve missed – think I’ll plan for them some time soon.

    Was rather surprised not to see Sin City, but then again it’s almost a caricature of the genre.

    Nice job.

    • TheCapitalLettter

      I agree. Sin City was the obvious one, somehow I didn’t think about Black Swan and it came as a surprise. I’m glad the author wrote the reasons to consider these films.

    • selunesmom

      I was kind of surprised not to see Kill Bill. It’s a perfect example of a neo-noir revenge tragedy.

  • rajimus123

    i’ve seen 4 of these movies and now im glad to have another 6 to look forward too. great list, it really gives me a different perspective on these movies knowing some of the background behind their srtyle. thanks!

  • oouchan

    I haven’t seen any of these movies but based on this list and write up, I will be adding them to my collection. Each sound amazing.

    Good list.

  • Borten

    I think Following should be Chris Nolan’s entry rather than Memento (or even include both), it certainly has much more of a noire influence and imo is the better film.

    • Borten

      Woops, Following was a 1998 release, my bad :P

  • cleric7

    I thought History Of Violence was phenomenal and probably would have put it higher. Also, my favorite movie on this list is Memento, which should be number one. Excellent list, though.

  • danblan

    I know we’ve never met, but you can now say that you have at least virtually encountered someone who hates Memento.

    • squid

      I didnt like it either. nolan’s worst imo.

  • copperdragon

    Fail without including LA Confidential (only 3 years off your “target decade”) and Sin City. I would rather watch either of those 2 (plus Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) then any other movie on the list.

  • skin2win

    This is i’m sh!tt!n’ my fkn pants good…it’s like a new world … oh, and ,…YAY

  • skin2win

    i agree with sh!tt!n’ pants guy… YAY

  • ParusMajor

    I like the original films noir of the 1940’s and 1950’s more than any of these, but I still love this list. Except that I would have preferred Eastern Promises over A History of Violence. Never mind, a small glitch.

  • Maggot

    Good list Tyler, and it seems to be mostly well-received by the masses. Since I’m a total novice to this genre, I particularly liked your added touch of defining the noir elements and then including a little checklist of which ones apply to the various individual films.

  • byaaaa

    seen ’em all

  • Zoe

    I’m wondering why Fight Club isn’t on this list? I thought it to be very noir

    • squid


  • phlyt

    I really loved drive, but couldn’t get into bronson, or the director’s earlier film about those bloody vikings ;P

    But I think his Pusher trilogy is wicked y’all!

  • Bernard Marx

    Thanks for including Black Swan. It came out more than a year ago and I still get goose bumps watching it. Aronofsky totally should’ve won an oscar for that.

  • coRYU

    Satoshi Kon rules neo-noir in the 2000. His exclusion is the biggest miss ever in Listverse history.

  • hobo_jim

    not enough Coen Brothers on this list…

  • chris

    IT looks like you made this list just to pimp drive. And for that I applaud you sir

  • riosix

    list is fail. The omittance of Sin City (noir the greats could only dream of), and I might be alone on this but I think Running Scared (Paul Walker) deserves a spot.

  • Petty Pedantic

    2010 isn’t part of the 2000’s

    • NedNoodle

      From 2000 onwards he says in the intro.

    • FlatEric

      It isn’t? I thought the century doesn’t change again until 2100.

      • brian

        2000s usually refers to the decade….the same as 1990s. but why does it have to be a century and not a millenium?

  • jonathanisaiah

    I’m shocked to find Frank Miller’s Sin City is not even listed. That film most if not all of the aspects that coin a film as Neo-Noir.

  • Drive was seriously overlooked for the Oscars. It was my favorite film of 2011, with Another Earth following behind it. Drive is a great combination of neo-noir, which obvious influence from the po-mo era as well. In a way, I see it as a classic western with an 80s makeover.

  • jt32kbg

    The Big Lebowski is not there

  • fuhranc

    I haven’t seen any of these movies

  • taken

    Good list except for Collateral Damage in which Tom screws.
    Two words Christian Bale


  • MrObama

    Wow loved Drive, rlly cool move and Gosling excelent actor :D. Thanks for the list loved to see some of these movies that I didn’teven knew about

  • psychosurfer

    I liked the list and I’m adding movies to my must-see list, unfortunately you didn’t mention any movie from the “Vengeance Trilogy” by Chan-wook Park.

    • fendabenda

      Now that you mentioned it… but I guess it’s hard to think of Korean films as “film noir” which is basically an American genre (despite having a French name, funnily enough).

      • psychosurfer

        Well, you are right, but in that case many of the films in the list do not qualify completely. I guess in the current postmodern and eclectic cinema we now have, genres are becoming kind of blurry.

  • Lifeschool

    I’ve seen Collateral, Memento and Brick. Collateral while doing research on Michael Mann for my media degree, Memento to get ready for a class test on technical codes, and Brick just cus someone recommended it. I’d say Brick is the only one of those worth a second glance. Brick is also one of my friends all time favourite movies – he’s seen it many times.

    • psychosurfer

      I haven’t seen Brick but I would strongly recommend The Machinist, maybe it falls into some common film-deceits, but the atmosphere, photography, pace and acting develop into an excruciating experience.

  • Ivan Karamazov

    I love this list. I’ve seen The Machinist, In Bruges, Brick, Black Swa, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Memento, but I think Brick is the best. Friggin AWESOME movie.

  • robvader12

    Just watched drive. Brick still deserves #1, its a near-perfect film. Also Joseph Gordon levitts role was slightly more interesting to me than goslings driver. Just my opinion thoughtfully. Also I would have bumped black swan off the list and put the machinist a little higher even though I thought its ending was weak.

  • Default

    Spoilers in trailers are a given nowadays, but that trailer for Drive is just obscene. Basically the entire movie minus the climax (or about half the climax).

  • Melissa

    I love 90% of the movies on this list. Collateral I found slow and boring. Great List!

  • That’s right, it sucked

    How is In Bruges funny? That movie sucked balls

  • TehWolfGuy

    Big Lebowski? D:

  • Judging by your criteria I think Training Day would be a match. Morally questionable “hero”, sense of doom, mental instability(?), classic noir dialogue(with a little African-American spice), classic noir comeuppance.

  • djC

    Memento is one of those movies I would marry if it were a girl

    XD I freaking love it!!!

  • JD

    As a big fan or Martin McDonagh’s plays, “In Bruges” kind of threw me when I first saw it. It goes in seemingly a million directions. But it’s become one of my favorite films, as on repeat watching the brilliance of the screenplay really comes through.

    “Drive” to me is one of the best films of the entire decade. Everything about it really worked.

  • Kyle

    The list is great, but I am surprised that No Country for Old Men did not even get a mention in the other comments, unless it is not considered a Noir.

  • rafsan akib

    i really liked drive,i thought that Ryan Gosling did a great job but couldn’t even get a nominee for best performance but they didn’t gave him any. makes me wonder how fake the oscar is.

  • Terrence

    Brick was awesome. The Machinist and A History of Violence are overrated.

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  • ash

    Drive is the only one I agree with – In Bruges better than Memento? Have you actually watched either movie?

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  • Apples

    Great list! Did not expect to see “Drive” as number 1, but it was well deserved. I loved that movie.

  • Minus

    Great list, but the absence of Mulholland Dr. blows my mind.

    Also, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead was pretty good.

  • Kevin N

    One word (or is it two): Oldboy

  • Plop

    In Bruges sucked. If it had come out a decade earlier, it would rightfully have been dIsmissed as a Euro-trash Pulp Fiction wannabe… And I loved Pulp Fiction.

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  • Michael Luc

    Drive? you can’t be serious? it is nothing more than an emo who decided that death is the better option. I’ll admit there are some dying scene where it has you cringing that reality is quite close. You call that the top Noir style? You have more work to do or are you finished?

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