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'Frank & Lola' is a good neo-noir but a better Michael Shannon movie

The actor plays a chef in love with a mysterious woman (Imogen Poots). And he definitely acts like Michael Shannon.
Frank & Lola

Michael Shannon plays a Las Vegas chef who falls for a mysterious woman (Imogen PoPaladin

‘Frank & Lola’
Director:
Matthew Ross
Stars: Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

There’s a small annex of the neo-noir genre reserved for films that don’t look or act like neo-noirs. Harold Ramis’ “The Ice Harvest” is a good one, though it’s still got stand-offs and the occasional bad-ass dialogue and a bona fide, retro femme fatale. But it wasn’t itself badass; it was a murky, gloomy stew in holiday un-merriment, one that lets itself get stolen by the comic relief (a very drunk Oliver Platt). Compared to it, “Frank & Lola” is a Wong Kar-wai movie.

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As it happens, when “Frank & Lola” begins it’s a straight-up Wong Kar-wai knock-off. Our eponymous lovers (Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots) are in love. Against a brooding Tindersticks-y score, director Matthew Ross jumps around the time line of how a Vegas chef (him) met a mysterious stranger (her), going from a one-night stand into something so intense that time itself seems to disappear; sometimes you can’t tell what’s a flashback or a flashforward. The good times, they can’t last. And they don’t: Like Ben Affleck in “Chasing Amy,” Frank discovers his new ladyfriend’s seamy past. And it’s particularly seamy, involving drugs, sex and a paternal lover from Europe. Frank can’t get it out of his mind, and when he lucks into a job interview in Paris, he’s more goosed about being able to do some snooping during his off time.

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Even when this romance has made a sharp detour for sex clubs and Emmanuelle Devos as a madam, “Frank & Lola” refuses to play like a neo-noir. Frank’s big job interview looks like food porn, and a confrontation is more an actor’s showdown between Shannon and Michael Nyqvist, as the film’s almost-villain. This is a film more interested in what Shannon will do than Frank. And rightly so: Shannon is both perversely cast (as a romantic lead) and perfectly cast (as cinema’s least predictable thespian). “Frank & Lola” becomes a damning study of machismo poisoning even a sensitive artistic type like Frank, not a retro thriller — a study of a classic genre that finds the men, not women, to be at fault. But it works even better as the eighth or so chance to just see Michael Shannon do his stuff. He’s no film noir fall guy; as always, he’s his own man. Watch the blase way Shannon throws a knife during the climactic tussle, or the “WTF” stare he shoots a pair of oddly moving doors in a fancy, modernist manse. If it can be classified by any genre, “Frank & Lola” might as well just be a “Michael Shannon Movie.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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