This column was originally published in Matt’s The Normal Newsletter, which you can find and subscribe to here.
The title of this week’s column is borrowed from one of my favorite Lana Del Rey tracks.
‘Money Power Glory’ is one of the last songs on her masterful 2014 record Ultraviolence. This is an album that conjures up her now-signature blend of detached Americana and brooding, doomed romance better than almost any of her other releases.
If, like me, you won’t be anywhere near chaotic Black Friday storefronts, it’s time to cozy up with some fucked up entertainment.
Home for the holidays? Tell your mom that your friend Matt has a nice Richard Gere double feature for you to enjoy together 😇
Not home for the holidays? Throw on another one of these morbid, sexy, and/or chaotic movies and bask in the knowledge that you are not having an awkward viewing experience with your parents.
(Unless otherwise noted, all movies are available to rent from Apple, Amazon, etc. in addition to the listed streaming services. But if you watch them and like them, I’d consider buying physical copies 😃)
Double Feature: American Gigolo (1980) and Unfaithful (2002)
Both American Gigolo and Unfaithful are streaming on Paramount+ and Showtime
This week’s double feature has everything: murder, gravity boots, troubled marriages, sexy torsos, and Richard Gere.
Winner of People Magazine’s coveted ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ award not once but twice, Gere rose to movie stardom in the ‘80s and ‘90s with both straightforward romances and darker erotic thrillers. Since we’re wrapping up Noirvember, this week we’ll be focusing on the latter.
First up is Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo, a star-making turn that saw Gere as a male escort named Julian who mostly caters to older female clientele. One day, he’s sent to the home of a wealthy couple; the husband wants to watch as Julian has rough sex with his wife. When the woman later ends up dead, Julian realizes he’s being framed.
American Gigolo is a fascinating convergence of late ’70s Los Angeles glamour and Schrader’s paranoic character studies. It’s a story that’s both flashy and muted; a murder victim’s jewelry planted in a sleek Mercedes, a lonely man surrounded by sex.
Director Adrian Lyne is in peak form in 2002’s Unfaithful, a remake of a 1969 Claude Chabrol film. Gere and Diane Lane star as Edward and Connie, a wealthy Tri-State couple who lead a boringly complacent life with their young, annoying son.
While running a few errands in New York City (as you do!), a comically intense windstorm quite literally sweeps Connie into the arms of a charming, seductive man named Paul (Olivier Martinez). The resulting affair jolts Connie out of her suburban monotony and seems to reawaken her. Lane is extraordinary in this film, especially in the scene where her character is riding a train home and gleefully reliving her marital transgressions.
Of course, this is an erotic thriller, so tensions must mount just as much if not more than the lovers do. And there must be at least one body.
This is an area where Lyne thrives, though. Yes, Unfaithful operates within a familiar genre, but he and his excellent actors unearth surprising and desperate emotions throughout. As I’ve said before, genre trappings don’t have to be a trap!
Other Movie Recommendations
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
This gem from 1999 is a true embodiment of the ‘Money Power Glory’ ethos.
Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) simply would have loved Lana. He’s an irresistibly poisonous con artist who infiltrates the life of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) in late ‘50s Italy.
Tom becomes enamored with Dickie, and his obsession only increases as they spend more time together. As Tom’s lies pile up and become harder to navigate, the bodies do, too. Directed by Anthony Minghella, this Patricia Highsmith adaptation is a menacing, sun-drenched character study built on deception and repressed desire.
Streaming on Paramount+.
Claire Denis’ Bastards develops an unrelenting atmosphere of all-consuming violence.
Straightforward narrative is almost always beside the point with Denis, but Bastards is loosely about a man (Vincent Lindon) investigating a hellish series of events inflicted on his sister’s family.
This noirish tale of incest, abuse, corruption, and vengeance is an elliptical and sprawling nightmare, using Denis’ signature fragmented narrative structure as a way of slowly revealing character motivations and allowing the film to hold back its harrowing power until all of the details come gradually, and painfully, into focus.
Streaming on AMC+, Shudder, Kanopy, and Tubi.
Absolute Power (1997)
Clint Eastwood has made some of the most mournful, contemplative American films of my lifetime. Absolute Power is not one of them.
Based on a David Baldacci book, this is Eastwood’s riff on a full-throttle, all-nonsense page-turner. Eastwood both directs the movie and stars in it as the master thief Luther Whitney. One night, Luther is robbing a mansion when he just so happens to stumble on the President of the United States (Gene Hackman!) attacking a woman he’s having an affair with.
When the woman fights back and wounds President Gene Hackman, his Secret Service detail storms in and kills her, and they then try to make it look like a burglary gone awry. Not great for Luther!
This is an exceptionally watchable cable-core thriller, with enough scheming and sneaking for three or four movies. Hackman relishes every moment as an unapologetically villainous POTUS, as does Judy Davis as his equally venomous Chief of Staff.
Streaming on Max.
Thus concludes Noirvember. How fun was that?
Next week, I will be taking a big departure from all things noir. If you have an out-of-left-field movie recommendation that you’d like me to feature, let me know. 😜
Matt Erspamer is a writer and movie lover who lives in Seattle.
Any views or opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.