starring Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, James Gandolfini
screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
directed by Joel Coen
by Walter Chaw The noir genre was born of discomfort with women in the workplace, the rise of cynicism, and a world polarized by international conflict (WWII). Its symbol, the hardboiled detective, became the projection of the collective paranoia about the ascent of globalism and the death of Pollyannaism. Women and foreigners are not to be trusted in the noir universe; information is slippery and expensive; and the solution of the puzzle more often than not points back to a rot at the heart of the detective. It is the Oedipus/identity trajectory, complete with a blasted plague land, a murder, its thinly veiled culprit (noir is typically invested in process, not mystery), the appearance of a femme fatale, and a solution involving mortal self-knowledge. The noir hero may save the day, but at the price of being betrayed by those he loves. He is impotent to avenge his fallen friends and lovers, and at the mercy of a larger corruption that is unalterable and serves only to further degrade individual confidence. Tellingly, a great many noir works in literature and film begin with the death of a best friend or a partner and end with the realization that any victory is a hollow one in light of society's inexorable fall into chaos.