As Logan: Noir does not contain any new frames from the original cut, I am going to avoid rehashing the plot of a movie most of us know and love. Instead, this piece will focus on what "film noir" really is. I think you will see the parallels with Logan (2017) fairly easily.

"Film noir" is a notoriously hard to define term to many lovers of the type, students of it, and especially film critics. Does a film have to be in monochrome to be a "noir"? Does it have to have been shot and produced at any time from the early 1940s to roughly 1958 (what is known as "the classic period" of film noir) and follow certain conventions of story (namely crime or lurid sex)?

The answer to these questions, in my view, is a resounding "no." While yes, film noir is more or less divided into two periods, the "classic period" (described above), and what many call the "neo-noir" period of approximately 1958 to today, some critics do not consider anything beyond the classic period to be real "noir."

To get at the best definition, we really need to see where "noir" came from. French film critic Nino Frank coined the term "le film noir" ("the black film") in 1935 in response to what he saw as a trend in primarily the American cultural fabric of movies with dark themes (typically crime, and in the independent, "grindhouse" theaters of the day, lurid sex) that were, coincidentally, shot using very harsh shadow, and their stories usually occurred primarily at night.

Logan-Noir on The 405

An American "grindhouse" theater, circa 1940s.

The trends that Frank saw came largely from American fatigue from being beaten down by the Great Depression and seeing their children mowed down in the streets by Tommy guns in Prohibition-induced disputes. Indeed, people were tired, and they started to consume literature that reflected this feeling. Readership in "pulp fiction" (so named for the cheap, "pulp" paper it was printed upon) and detective magazines like Black Mask peaked. These publications were filled with stories of flawed, world-weary heroes (the private detective, usually) chasing down gangsters, criminals, and all kinds of assorted baddies. The term "hard-boiled" came into existence to describe this kind of fiction in all its bloody, visceral, very human reality.

Logan-Noir on The 405

Logan-Noir on The 405

Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon

The hard-boiled literary trends of that time period found their way on to the big screen in the form of early films noir like The Maltese Falcon (1941) through pure supply and demand. People wanted it, Hollywood supplied it. The films of that classic period are "noir" in both their hard-boiled story structures and their visual style.

The cinematography of classic film noir largely came into existence for practical concerns. Hard shadow, for instance, was used because it elegantly blurred mistakes in sets that were very often reused from film to film as these early films noir were given, basically, B-movie budgets.

Logan-Noir on The 405

A still photograph from “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) that is a great example of hard shadow in noir.

The visual aesthetics of classic film noir have certainly burrowed deeply into our cultural consciousness. Yet, it is a mistake to get stuck just on them, especially when noir itself was fathered by literary trends. We should not let narrow definitions obscure the true soul of noir as a style: hard-boiled and ultra-realistic in its expositions of human frailty and the immeasurable chaos it causes. Yet, that is where the good of humanity also comes in: the world-weary, flawed, hero who is reluctantly thrust into the foray of stopping the evil at any cost.

Logan-Noir on The 405

Fargo (1996)

We see these themes exposed in films often labelled "neo-noir" as well, yet without the monochrome visuals. Human frailty is on parade throughout these films and eloquently exposed in story and cinematography in the best of them. The Coen brothers' Fargo is quintessential neo-noir. The hard-boiled story arc centers around crime and human frailty, yet it happens in the exact opposite of "black": the icy, snow-packed landscapes of Fargo, North Dakota and cities over the Red River in Minnesota. David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001) is another great example. It is a color film, but the story centers around the power and mechanisms of dreams, nightmares, and jealousy in the human psyche that compels people to do crime. The bottom-line here being that it is a disservice to ourselves as cinephiles to abide by narrow definitions of noir as a style.

This is where Logan: Noir, the monochrome re-release of Logan, comes in. More than a few critics have come out, downplaying the significance of this edition of the film, while not outright bashing it because Logan itself was an exceptional film and again there is not a single new frame in Logan: Noir.

This reaction to the re-release is unjustified in my view as a student and lover of both classic and neo-noir. Logan itself very much channels the spirit of noir and noir-tinged westerns like 1992's Unforgiven. In fact, Hugh Jackman largely modelled his role of the dying, world-weary superhero on Clint Eastwood's performance as the equally world-weary retired gunslinger William Munny.

Logan-Noir on The 405

Make no mistake, Logan itself is to a large degree a hard-boiled story. It could be called "noir-tinged science fiction," in fact. The Logan: Noir print does a lot to bring this fact into sharper focus for those who are aware enough to see it. The monochrome itself is a beautiful cinematic take on the swan song of a beloved superhero and also does a lot to channel the visual style of classic noir. It is essential viewing for any fan of the hard-boiled.