Semantics aside, this genre of film has a niche audience and tend to be hard to come by in the modern era. The closest we've come to a mainstream hit in this area is SIN CITY (2005) which used a noir influence as a springboard to a complete clusterfuck of a movie. A popular clusterfuck, but a clusterfuck all the same.
With all that in mind, it is amazing that I never saw DARK COUNTRY until five years after Sony Pictures unceremoniously dumped it direct to DVD in a barebones 2D release with zero promotional push.
The film itself has a fascinating out of time design to it. It feels like it could be the 1940s, except there are plenty of deliberate anachronisms to lend an almost disorienting feel to the movie. There is a scene with a cellphone (usually the bane of my cinematic existence) that is very carefully done to make it look as if the cellphone was made in an era in which cellphones hadn't been invented. It is probably something that you will either love or hate as it as it is a device to keep the audience off-balance. There is a part of your brain that will nag you that things aren't right, which is the point. Things aren't right, they are very, very not right.
I have never been much of a fan of Thomas Jane. I thought he was horribly miscast in THE PUNISHER (2004), which had the added burden of being a horrible adaptation. I thought he was fine in THE MIST (2007), but this film made me change my entire outlook on the man. Sure it is a flawed film; due to it being a niche film, it was a very low budget and only had a 25 day shooting schedule, as opposed to the average 60 day shoot of a Hollywood film. Then again, it is about three times longer than Jim Wynorski takes to shoot a BARE WENCH sequel, which should give you an idea of how important time is to filmmaking. Because of the short shooting schedule, there were some concessions made, and Jane himself is very open about the films flaws. I think he's harder on the film than I was, but he has talked about how wasn't able to devote more time to editing the film and has expressed disappointment that they had to resort to CGI for a car stunt.
When you see the car stunt in question out of context, you might think that Jane's heart wasn't in the right place. However there are many outstanding elements in the film that erase that cynical notion. The opening craneshot (done in one take, no cuts) of the '50s era hotel sign took them half of a day to shoot. That may not sound like much, but when you have a 90 minute movie to make with location shooting (enhanced by CG), spending a half a day on one small shot digs pretty deep into your resources. For me, the shot is crucial and completely sucks you in, letting you know before a single actor shows up, before a single line of dialogue is uttered, exactly what kind of film you are about to experience. In addition, the film was shot in stereoscopic 3D. Jane made intricate notes while storyboarding on what style of 3D he wanted for each shot. Some sequences have enhanced depth, some have pop-out effects, some are a very subtle layering and some transition between the three. The effort taken to make the 3D work in the context of the movie is truly stunning in an age of cynical post-conversion.
The movie took a lot of flack from internet sites for being too obtuse (it is definitely a strange bird) and many viewers found it too confusing and too dark. Jane has stated that he made it for the kind of people that used to stay up late to catch "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits" as kids. While this has been used as a negative, to me it's a positive because I was one of those kids. It successfully captures that feeling and adds a layer of pulpy darkness in the vein of POINT BLANK (1967), except without the psychedelia. Jane even admits he told the composer to take his cues, so to speak, from composers such as Bernard Herrmann.
Unfortunately it's also one of those films were you can stumble across a spoiler on the internet completely by accident (thank you IMDb) and it's not too difficult to figure out what is going to happen if you were one of those "Twilight Zone" kids. Again, it is a flawed film, but a very detailed and compelling one.
It is now being reported that Jane's new film is Glenn Ford western homage A MAGNIFICENT DEATH FROM A SHATTERED HAND which stars Jane and Nick Nolte. Jane has stated that he wanted to do it in 3D, but it was so difficult to get the backing on a western in the first place, that getting a 3D western greenlit was impossible. It's a damn shame that Hollywood has insisted on crushing the 3D format through abject apathy and outright laziness, as a gritty western shot wide in 3D would have been amazing. Even so, I am really interested in seeing how he follows up DARK COUNTRY.