#TBT @ THE MOVIES: Dick Tracy (1990) is a fun, aesthetic noir romp

So, due to some personal reasons and election anxiety, it took me two weeks to watch Dick Tracy.  That said, I had a great time with the film, which diverges from the usual superhero fare for comics movies.  The titular Dick Tracy works as a detective, hot on the trail of mobsters all over his town.

The star-studded cast includes Warren Beatty as Tracy, Madonna as femme fatale Breathless Mahoney, and others such as Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, and Dustin Hoffman as mobsters.  A solidly written script mixes romantic drama with a solid noir plotline, and the twist ending took me by surprise.

But the movie really shines in its visuals.  Characters wear bright, solid colors for the most part, like Tracy and his iconic yellow trench and fedora.  Mahoney wears either white or black, her hair in Marilyn Monroe curls.  The gangsters, with names like Lips, Mumbles, Flat Top, Little Face, and the Brow, cut grotesque silhouettes with great prosthetics and makeup.

This film never lets you forget that it’s fiction.  Dick Tracy wants us to recognize that it’s all just a dream, but the good kind.  The kind where the heroes win, and the bad guys die hoist on their own petards.  Where the good guy gets the girl and saves the day.  You know exactly who to root for.

Madonna’s performance as Breathless Mahoney really struck me.  She plays the femme fatale, the gangster’s moll, to the hilt, a good decision for a film like this.  Nothing left up to interpretation, the film relies on the visually explicit and on its rapid-fire noir dialogue.  Similarly, Beatty’s Tracy doesn’t stray outside the lines of the typical noir hero: he places duty before love, and eventually, he gets to have both.  He doesn’t talk about his feelings, and nobody manages to make him do it.

Normally, I prefer movies that color outside the lines, that do unusual things with the writing.  But for Dick Tracy, the visuals are singular enough for me.  They also serve as proof that, with the right tone, a comic book movie can look like anything.

Some of the writing doesn’t age well, again, because it plays the noir tropes straight.  But it doesn’t do anything outright offensive, which is necessary for the rating that I’m giving it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film, and I think I really needed it right now.  Check it out if you like noir, love a comic strip sensibility translated accurately to film, or if you just need an escape from reality right now.


Murphy Leigh

Murphy is a vaguely femininish malady who spends most of their time worshipping at the altars of Lois Lane, Chloe Sullivan, Jean Grey, and Wanda Maximoff. Their first confirmable event-memory is Princess Leia at the start of A New Hope. Has more in common with Lex Luthor than Lex Luthor would probably like to admit.

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