Cult Corner: Whodunit? Creators give classic film noir a modern flair

Mike White, “School of Rock” screenwriter and veteran of a slew of other film and television productions, recently remarked on the runaway success of his HBO mystery drama “White Lotus.”

“Had I only known if I'd put a dead body at the beginning of (my previous HBO show) ‘Enlightened,’ maybe people would've watched ‘Enlightened,’ ” White said. “You realize these kinds of hooks do actually get viewers."

A dead body and the questions “Why?,” “Who?” and “Will the detective answer the ‘Why?’ and ‘Who?’ ” remain as popular as they have since Edgar Allen Poe committed “Murders in the Rue Morgue” to the page in 1841.

Film noir, a subgenre of detective fiction that emerged from the pulp fiction of the 1930s and ’40s, remains entertaining and relevant in modern settings. Though the femme fatale, hardboiled gumshoe and fedoras are largely gone, some of cinema’s top names are using film noir’s tropes to craft updated takes on the genre. Its reflection of modern alienation, moral corruption, greed and pessimism are as pertinent as ever.

Set in 1954 Detroit against the backdrop of the auto industry, “No Sudden Move” (2021) features Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro as low-level gangsters who realize they’ve been set up by their boss on what should have been a quick hostage job. On the run with a sizable bounty on their heads, they try to keep their profile low while finding help from allies to clear their names.

Directed by genre veteran Steven Soderbergh (“Out of Sight,” “Ocean’s Eleven”), written by Ed Solomon (“Men in Black,” “Now You See Me”) and featuring turns from David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Julia Fox and Brendan Fraser, it hits all the right beats, as you’d expect from creators with such pedigree. Soderbergh alone is reason enough to watch any thriller bearing his name.

Director David Cronenberg is synonymous with the horror genre, so it’s no surprise that, given his mastery of tension, his sci-fi mystery “Crimes of the Future” (2022) is a stark vision of the future firmly rooted in noir tropes.

Viggo Mortensen stars as a superstar performance artist drawn into the web of intrigue created when an 8-year-old boy is murdered by his mother. His somewhat unwilling investigation leads him to the fringes of futuristic society as he faces what may be humanity’s next stage in evolution and his own place within it. It’s a world on the verge of next steps, and the bleak backdrop and supporting characters are as intriguing as the premise. Cronenberg, as always, gives the viewer room to piece together some of the puzzle themselves.

Chevy Chase’s turn as wisecracking investigative reporter Fletch is iconic, so it makes sense that it has taken nearly 40 years for another “Fletch” film to be released. This time, Jon Hamm steps into the role, and the comedic chops he has plied since finishing his run on AMC’s “Mad Men” are on full display. More laid back and laconic than Chase, Hamm floats through a sea of eccentric characters and absurd setups in “Confess, Fletch” (2022).

Fletch is tasked with helping an Italian girlfriend track down her father’s missing art collection in this installment, based on one of the novels in the Fletch series. Upon arrival in Boston, where he plans to begin his investigation, Fletch discovers the body of a young woman in his rental home. He employs his trademark panache to keep ahead of whoever seems to have it in for him as he peels back the layers of both the murder and the art theft.

Best known as business wunderkind Ryan on “The Office,” writer/actor/comedian B.J. Novak stepped into the director’s chair for “Vengeance,” (2022) a black comedy thriller set in the desolation of West Texas. Novak stars as a writer for The New Yorker living the fast life in the city and searching for his next story. The story turns out to be in Texas, where he’s invited to the funeral of a former hookup, who told her family she and Novak’s character were an item. Believing that she didn’t simply die of an overdose, the woman’s brother recruits Novak to track down the killer(s) and avenge her death. Novak’s emotionally detached character gets a glimpse of the dark heart of the drug trade, while also seeing the underside of his own lonely life.

Novak uses a classic noir framework to deal with timeless topics in a way that is equal parts bleak, hilarious and touching. Fans of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett, take note.

Thompson enjoys putting somewhat carefully chosen words in relatively meaningful order. He lives in Lewiston and is on Instagram as @theswap_quadcities and can be reached via email at He has been to college.