Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.
I love film noir. I like Budapest, historical fiction and Hungarian cinema. But I don’t care for “Budapest Noir,” which feels much longer than its 95 minutes while failing to achieve the classic noir mood.
The problems start with the lighting. Noir can succeed in color, but it requires a darkness that visually reflects the spirit of its underworld. But this “Budapest” is bright and almost cheerful despite depicting a city falling under the shadow of fascism in 1936.
The voiceover is a key facet of film noir, but here it is eye-rollingly cliched from the start, when we hear reporter Zsigmond Gordon (Krisztián Kolovratnik) tell us that for some people Budapest is a city of darkness and for others it’s a city of lights. As a result, it sometimes seems more like a homage to “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” than to “The Maltese Falcon.”
Gordon is investigating the killing of a Jewish prostitute, a story the police, the government and various criminals want him to drop. It’s a good enough setup for a noir film and features the obligatory layers of booze, dames and corruption to distract him from his task and from love interest Krisztina, who’s just back a crusading effort to photograph the evils of the Nazi regime in Berlin.
But too many details — the fascist prime minister’s funeral, Gordon’s history as a boxer and a reporter in Chicago, attacks on Jews eight years before they were rounded up — are distractions from the storytelling. Kolovratnik is strong within scenes, then seems to be doing a Robert Mitchum impression when the camera inevitably follows him as he swaggers away.
“Budapest Noir” isn’t a bad movie; just don’t expect it to live up to its name.