‘Inferno’ Sears to Life Beneath Its Cold, Dark Exterior
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Noir these days is really hard to pull off. One of the oldest genres in the books, the tropes are so easily identifiable, so ingrained into our culture, that any filmmaker aspiring to do something with the form needs to be wary of falling into the trap of unintentional parody. You can have only so many hatted, quiet hero-cops before you realize it’s time to retire a character type that perfected by Humphrey Bogart over 70 years ago.
In fact, one can make the argument that if you’re going to attempt noir these days, might as well intentionally make it a comedy, just to protect your credibility.
To the credit of the filmmakers behind “Inferno,” a new independently produced noir series debuting today, if the first two episodes are any indication, they have absolutely nothing to worry about. This is a damn-good noir show, and I’ve only watched two of a planned 12 episodes.
The plot has the usual noir elements. There’s that aforementioned inner-city hero-cop looking really good in a hat; there’s the shady other cop who’s probably corrupt and partially responsible for all of the bad things that happened; there’s a reporter who is clearly in way over his head; there’s a missing kid; there’s blood on the streets; there are shadows on every frame; and everybody’s smoking a cigarette.
But it works, because “Inferno” is so well done, because Patrick Hendrickson, who co-wrote and directed the show, is so focused on telling a good story, instead of making a cool noir show.
I don’t want to act too impressed that an independently produced web series is able to have the production value that this show has. It’s something we should all hope for as we continue to champion those creating original and entertaining stuff for digital platforms.
But you know a show is in good hands when the director doesn’t dwell too long on how he’s able to craft the perfect shot. Yes, producers Companion Pictures were able to get vintage cars and the attire to effectively recreate the time period the story takes place in. But that was all in service of the story, which is already riveting roughly 14 minutes into a 12 episode season.
The first two episodes are mainly used to establish the story: There is a bank robbery, which results in the death of a cop and the kidnapping of a young kid. As you watch, you’ll notice that like with any good noir, there are a lot of moving parts in the narrative, and the script does a good job of slowly informing the audience of what’s actually going on. Never once is “Inferno” infatuated with the Big Twist and other the over-the-top cinematic accoutrements that usually come when a story’s being handled by incapable hands.
If there’s one gripe, it’s that the cinematographer maybe overdoes the use of shadows and dark lighting. The show can sometimes be too dark.
Then again, not everyone needs is Gordon Willis. To the filmmakers’ credit, they’re not trying to be.