I’ve been a consumer of countless crime fiction novels, films, and television for most of my life now—from eras ranging from Raymond Chandler to Elmore Leonard to Dennis Lehane—yet still I find myself pausing to ask this bleeding question: what the hell does neo-noir ever mean?
Most commonly, people refer to neo-noir as anything that follows the template of the classical film noir era, which occurred in the 1940s and '50s. For that reason, films like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential often get labeled as neo-noir, but I find it difficult not to see this as a misnomer. Those films carry an authentic stigma that makes me feel that they were really part of the classical era.
Other people take the word more literally and feel it applies to noir-esque films with science-fiction elements in them, such as Blade Runner. But, more often than not, the noir themes in these films tend to be overshadowed by the spectacle.
Even some filmmakers seem to be less than privy to the term (don’t count on the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino ever describing their films as neo-noir). And when I talk about film in my favorite genre of cinema, you best believe I drop the “neo” in most cases. That said, there are still a handful of films I feel are best described by the aforementioned term. For that reason, I believe John Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank ranks as the best neo-nor ever made.