12 Days of X-Mas: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s lovingly noirish opening credits, the film notes that it is “based in part upon the novel Bodies and Where You Find Them” – a 1941 Brett Halliday mystery novel. The adoration for pulp mystery isn’t just simmering beneath the surface, it permeates every aspect of this Shane Black noir, Michelle Monaghan’s character, for instance – Harmony, an ironic name given just how much disharmony her character brings to the plot – is totally infatuated with a series of Chandler-esque mystery novels.
However, Shane Black doesn’t just pay lip-service to the labyrinthine novels of Chandler and Halliday, he uses the style’s preoccupation with memory and narration to tangle the script until the main plot points become indiscernible from the ancillary ones. At one point in the film, Downey Jr.’s Harry is telling the story of Harmony’s past and the film reel skips to a halt – trapped in the borders of the screen is the line between one frame and the next. He notes that he forgot to include a detail about Harmony’s past. But, what is important isn’t necessarily the detail – in fact, like every good noir, very few of the details actually are. Instead, what is important is the very blatant emphasis Black is placing on the theme of memory, and more precisely, muddled memory and subjectivity. Like the eye that opens Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, Black wants us to understand that while the details of the plot may not be so vital, the characters and themes certainly are.
While the film may seem incidentally holiday themed, I think that with the theme of memory in mind the setting carries a bit more thematic relevance. Christmas is at the end of the year; a time to be thankful and remember all of the people you love. The red Santa dresses and suits give Black a clever excuse to communicate character relationships and non-verbalized feelings without having to outright say anything, though, of course, later on he does. A cursory glance at how Black links the color red to Harmony makes this color theme abundantly clear. Almost every time Harmony is on-screen there’s either a red wall in the background, she is wearing something red, or, as is the case quite often, both occur. The clever use of the season also just makes for a ton of Christmas-themed fun. Everything is decked out in vine-like Christmas lights, bright red costuming and wallpaper give the film a nice pop, and bells are a recurring tune through all of film’s music. It’s a fun Christmas action-noir tale without making itself so indebted to the season that it feels out of place to watch it the other eleven months of the year.
Ultimately, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a holiday themed-summer action flick with an incredibly intelligent script, brilliantly fun performances, and a noir tinge. If that sounds up your alley, maybe consider making this a new Christmas season ritual.