Noir meets reality

Notes On: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (Laurie Dix)

‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ is a story by Brett Halliday, adapted for screen and directed by Shane Black.

It is obvious that there are noir influences at work here, and there are several throwbacks to films from the 1940’s. Although rather tongue in cheek, this is a very cleverly written and well thought out film which mirrors some of the classic tropes of noir excellently, whilst maintaining and a modern and humorous twist.

The story follows Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) as he turns from a life of crime and burglary, through the accidental death of his friend, to a life of high society as he inadvertently becomes an actor and embroiled in a murder case which gets way out of hand. With the help of his agent; ‘Gay’ Perry, and his high school sweetheart; Harmony Lane, Harry’s ‘Acting Lessons’ in how to be a detective quickly become uncovering a real murder investigation.

Why does ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ come under my list of ‘Noir Inspired films’? Again, to the list of tropes:

  • Detective stories (hardboiled), again, are at the heart of the the Noir genre, and this films is a murder mystery, which is basically the same thing.
  • There is an internal monologue throughout, explaining though processes and ideas happening in real time and in retrospect, a ‘Philip Marlowe’ trope.
  • The Protagonist is, in fact, a “Misunderstood” criminal, who we see trying to steal toys for his nephew at the top of the film. He is also a ‘detective’ (or at least, working with a detective and so working as a detective) which is one of the more common careers for Noir protagonists.
  • Although there aren’t ‘Gangsters’ as such, there are people in power with powerful friends, people who want Harry dead for various reasons, who are, for all intents and purposes, Hired Guns, which to my mind, often equates to ‘gangsters’ (provided your definition of ‘Gangster’ is not ‘Cosa Nostra’ or the like).
  • There are several suspects, which are all deployed at various times in order to lead us down various routes of suspecting who the culprits may be, and their motives.
  • There is a body, in fact there are a few (the body count rises as the film progresses, but there is a body which acts as a catalyst for this whole affair).

Although the film is very tongue-in-cheek and ridiculous, it is a well told, fun story, and holds many references to film noir. Whereas the film may not be a noir itself, it does reference a lot of the more common tropes of noir, and therefore counts, in my eyes, as a consequence of noir, and so has earned the right to have comparisons drawn.


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