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Reflections on “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”
Given the pedigree of this film – written and directed by the man who authored the “Lethal Weapon” films (Shane Black) – I was expecting an amusing tale littered with good one-liners and characterisation, mixed with some high-octane action.
What I found took me somewhat by surprise – a piece of work which is much more ambitious, complex and playful.
“KKBB” plays to film noir themes. It looks at “innocence”, chance, the blemished hero with (untapped) moral fibre, an apparently amoral tough-guy role-model, and romantic interest in the form of a girl who is cherished and idealised, but who is in reality somewhat tarnished.
In terms of the structure of the film we are also dealing with a film noir. The unsuspecting “hero”, a fairly amoral guy, used to doing what he must do to survive, is led into a sleazy and complex world of immorality.
Destinies are intertwined – actions lead to consequences for others as well as for the instigators of the action, and the implications of these actions only become clear as various previously withheld details are revealed.
Even the classic film noir narration technique of voice-over is used, this time embellished by use of images as well.
A classic film noir, you might think, but in this film every film noir convention is not only used but toyed with.
By means of frantic pacing, exaggeration, the establishment of a sense of superiority on the part of the audience (who recognise various situations and characters), Black has created a film which is both film noir in itself and a pastiche of film noir at the same time. This he achieved through managing to make his characters more than just puppets used to play with film noir conventions and maintain illusion – they are clearly defined, fleshed out and developed, and as such we are shocked when characters are hurt or killed.
The Hitchcockian “innocent” hero who shows unsuspected courage and flair becomes a frightened low-life who survives by chance rather than skill, the wise-cracking and often heroic sleuth of so many films noirs is gay and amoral, and relies more on his wit than physical ability. The damsel in distress is far from being classy and unattainable – she even offers herself to our hero (if he thinks that will make him feel better!). Coincidence, chance and existential responsibility are all in there too – all mocked, yet playing a significant part in the storyline. Black doesn’t even leave the traditional narration untouched as this is extended to incorporate confusion which is reflected in the very running and editing of the film! There is even a tagged-on “happy” ending!
In spite of the style of the film, at its heart it makes a clear existential statement about the fact there is no morality, only levels of immorality as we see the damage done to people in their youth by incest, and the effects this damage can have on adults in society (all taken to extreme, of course).
Although the film was not at all what I expected, I found it unconventionally rewarding and entertaining, though knowledge of the references made to various films and conventions would, I imagine, be distinctly advantageous. Robert Downey was wonderfully infuriating, Val Kilmer smoothly cool and Michelle Monaghan suitably attractive, appealing and vivacious. All three main leads played with verve and enthusiasm. They clearly believed in and enjoyed this experience. As a first time directing experience for Shane Black, I thought it was a remarkable achievement. Let us hope that studio chiefs see beyond the relatively poor box-office performance to see a director who can successfully juggle different genres to produce a film which is entertaining on various levels.
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