Published April 1, 1999
Goodbye Lover, directed by Roland Joffé, is yet another inadequate attempt by Hollywood to recapture the look and feel, if not the spirit, of 1940s vintage films noirs. But as I noted in my review of L.A. Confidential, of which this is surely a stable-mate, the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. It has the outward trappings of the noir picture—the hard-boiled characters set in a dark urban demi-monde who are trying to get rich by some criminal means, or to catch those who are so trying, while uttering pointed, witty, cynical dialogue. But all these things look merely silly in the absence of the sense of an unforgiving, incorruptible fate hanging over everything which is what made noir what it was. Above all, the noir universe was built around a moral order—an order which we might come to resent on behalf of the little characters who never stood a chance against it but which we knew in our hearts could never be changed.
All that is gone in Goodbye Lover. Goodbye God would be more like it. A shallow artistic intelligence like Joffé’s must think it striking and original to have two rather unprepossessing little people put one over on the Universal Lawgiver for a change and actually escape to Europe with a bulging bag of loot. And as an additional little post-modern touch, he makes the only character in the film who has spoken on behalf of a transcendent right and wrong and who is now acting as bodyguard for a corrupt and hypocritical Republican politician turn to the camera with a wink and say, a propos of the newly enriched criminals, “It sure is nice to see good things happen to good people. I mean it!” Yeah, well. Joffé doesn’t mean it. Like others of his kidney, he doesn’t mean anything. That is the great post-modern liberation: you don’t have to mean anything, you just recycle some of the more striking images left over from the days when movies did have to mean things and cobble them together as “entertainment.”
I hope my readers are not among those entertained by such rubbish.