“Down these mean streams, a man must go who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”
Each month we provide you with a handy guide to the best crime, thriller, mystery movies new to the major streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Showtime). Watch them once, twice, however many times you like, and we’ll be back in a few weeks with more discoveries based on our intensive investigation of all the new arrivals and releases.
Gosford Park (Netflix)
A British country house mystery seems at first unexpected territory for Robert Altman, the distinctly American director with a satirically realistic style and a known disinterest in plot. But Altman’s style, which rests on decorating each character with compelling quirks and entertaining details, and then letting them make their way through a plot, is in fact a perfect and fresh approach to a Christie-style whodunnit. Everything is in order at Gosford Park, everyone upstairs and downstairs securely in his or her respective place of aristocracy and servitude, until murder disrupts the serenity, and unexpected connections between the classes lead to surprising alliances, betrayals, and suspicions. Julian Fellowes, who went on to create Downton Abbey, penned the script; not to mention the cast, which includes Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, among many, many others.
In Wargames, it’s up to a “nerdy” 21-year-old Matthew Broderick to save the world from World War III. He’s just a teenager who wants to correct his grades by way of breaking into the school’s server, but inadvertently finds himself playing a “game” of Global Thermonuclear War, managing to convince the super-computer—and by extension, the military personnel at NORAD—that the Soviet Union has launched missiles, thus signaling a retaliation that threatens to nudge the feigned conflict into real-life Armageddon. Before Mr. Robot (and Ferris Bueller), there was the microcomputer, a young tech genius, and the nascent hacker thriller.
Reservoir Dogs (Amazon Prime) (5/31)
Tarantino’s first film has stood the test of time, remembered for its wholly original noirish premise, its ruthless characters, almost all of whom meet unfortunate fates, and tight, absurdist dialogue. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it has it’s charm, and plus, the story behind the title is rewarding in and of itself; Tarantino was inspired by the 1987 French film, Au Revoir, Les Enfants, and found “Reservoir Dogs” a close-enough pronunciation.
The Letter (Amazon Prime) (5/31)
We’re taking it back to 1940 with this classic, which includes all the elements of the era’s noir (blackmail, colonial overtones, a manipulative and deadly woman whose emotions have spun out of whack, deception, bad love). Back in the days of “British Malaya,” (present day Singapore), Leslie, the wife of a rubber plantation manager, murders a respected Englishman, claiming he overstepped, sexually speaking, and she had no choice but to defend her honor. Everyone believes her, until the Englishman’s widow comes forth with a letter, penned by Leslie, urging him to visit in her husband’s absence. With Bette Davis at the helm as duplicitous wife-murderer Leslie Crosbie, the only thing that’s wrong is the era; but aside from the textbook femme fatale, the melodrama is unsparing, atmospheric, and gripping.
The English Patient (Hulu)
Some may be reluctant to consider The English Patient a crime film, but show me Ralph Fiennes on his deathbed, burnt beyond recognition, barely able to grasp his tattered copy of Herodotus, and tell me there’s anything more noir. Adapted from Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel of the same name, and starring Juliet Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas, and a very “fine” Ralph Fiennes, it’s one of the best adaptations—one of the best films—ever made, regardless of its source material. Full of mystery and intrigue—Why the burnt man? Where are his memories? What happened to the couple from the opening scene, flying high above the North African desert in a prewar biplane?—it’s a haunting tale of sweeping, timeless proportions, told in past and prologue.
If you squint, this is another noir film, set in the mid-century, in which sensual pleasures are pit against self-discipline as a single mother (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter move into an oppressively Catholic French village to open a chocolate shop—just as Lent is underway and the townspeople are trying their hardest to abstain from such cursed bodily indulgence. But her sweets are too delicious to resist, and Johnny Depp, a traveler who roams by way of houseboat, is not immune. Their love-by-chocolate is consummated in a “Grand Festival of Chocolate,” which they plan for Easter Sunday, but still, the question remains: is there such a thing as too much sweetness?
The Constant Gardener (Amazon Prime) (5/31)
Because who can really get enough of Ralph Fiennes in the desert… With all the Le Carré stories on the silver screen, The Constant Gardener is easily one of the best. It’s post-Cold War Le Carré, and the new world order looks similar, albeit with new characters (aid workers, multinational drug companies, the history of colonial violence) warring for dominance. It takes us to Kenya, where a British diplomat (Fiennes) is trying to solve the murder of his wife, a crusading activist (Rachel Weiss). As always, watch out for the pharmaceutical industry.