Classic Noir Film Characteristics

Film, Film Studies, Film Trailer, Neo Noir, Research, U66, U_5

Film Noir is an iconic film genre that’s commonly recognised for it’s dark, stylish, black-and-white cinematography and crime-filled action and drama. Reaching popularity in the 1940s and ’50s, it’s charismatically cynical cast of characters and lust-driven, crime-centred story-lines continue to influence many films today. It’s French name means “black film” and refers to the monochrome visuals that the style is so well-known for, rooting back to early German Expressionism.


Noir’s famous usage of highlights and darkness in it’s film is one of style’s most defining visual characteristics. It’s clever use of relatively cheap and simple lighting set-up combined with smart angles really helps focus on the significant points throughout the film.

The repeated use of back-lighting in Noir films is also another common characteristic. This technique has certainly served Film Noir quite well mainly because of the stark, black-and-white contrast it gives to the characters’ figures that helping set the scene and show what is happening in a very simplistic but effective way.

The usage of bars and harsh lighting was also frequently used in Noir films. It creates a sense of mystery and intrigue by purposefully not revealing certain areas of the scene.

Noir films use a lot of chiaroscuro lighting to create a notable contrast of light and shadow in scenes. The term is a combination of the two Italian words for “clear” or “bright” and “dark”, and the effect is usually achieved by simple spotlights. Chiaroscuro lighting is also referred to as low-key lighting or high-contrast lighting.


Most Noir films usually have an anti-hero as it’s protagonist. It’s infamous characters all have many common traits – conflicted or morally ambiguous morals, character defects such as lack of honesty or grace amongst many other eccentricities that leave a certain charisma that appeals to the audience. Their motives and actions are often seen as scandalous and daring, providing a lot of melodrama within the film.

Noir films also have what is known as a femme fatale – a female side lead or woman of association to the main character that is usually an irresistibly attractive woman who often leads the male characters to destruction. Their character is usually depicted in a very misogynistic manner, commonly providing a selling point to many Noir films.




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