The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
Like a tantalizing mirage, film noir haunts modern filmmakers. Noir is the genre of night, guilt, violence and illicit passion, and no genre is more seductive. But the best noirs were made in the 1940s and 1950s, before directors consciously knew what they were doing (“We called them B movies,” said Robert Mitchum).
Once the French named the genre, once a generation of filmmakers came along who had seen noirs at cinematheques instead of in flea pits, noir could never again be naive. One of the joys of a great noir like “Detour” (1954) is the feeling that it was made by people who took the story perfectly seriously. One of the dangers of modern self-conscious noir, as Pauline Kael wrote in her scathing dismissal of “Body Heat,” is that an actress like Kathleen Turner comes across “as if she were following the marks on the floor made by the actresses who preceded her.”
And yet if bad modern noir can play like a parody, good noir still has the power to seduce. Yes, Lawrence Kasdan's “Body Heat” (1981) is aware of the films that inspired it--especially Billy Wilder's “Double Indemnity” (1944). But it has a power that transcends its sources. It exploits the personal style of its stars to insinuate itself; Kael is unfair to Turner, who in her debut role played a woman so sexually confident that we can believe her lover (William Hurt) could be dazed into doing almost anything for her. The moment we believe that, the movie stops being an exercise and starts working. (I think the moment occurs in the scene where she leads Hurt by her hand in that manner a man is least inclined to argue with.)
Women are rarely allowed to be bold and devious in the movies; most directors are men, and they see women as goals, prizes, enemies, lovers and friends, but rarely as protagonists. Turner's entrance in “Body Heat” announces that she is the film's center of power. It is a hot, humid night in Florida. Hurt, playing a cocky but lazy lawyer named Ned Racine, is strolling on a pier where an exhausted band is listlessly playing. He is behind the seated audience. We can see straight down the center aisle to the bandstand. All is dark and red and orange. Suddenly a woman in white stands up, turns around and walks straight toward him. This is Matty Walker. To see her is to need her.