(Dave Boyle, 2015)
In what feels like direct opposition to much modern neo-noir, Boyle's film does noir in an old-fashioned, serious manner: slowly, patiently, methodically. That's not to suggest it isn't stylish. It is visually lovely, filled with strong compositions and a palette of muted colours. Boyle's storytelling adds to the strong sense of atmosphere created - this is a quiet, thoughtful piece of cinema.
It centres on best-selling Japanese mystery writer Aki (Ayako Fujitani) who returns to her college hometown of San Francisco, depressed and somewhat suicidal. There she meets a mysterious man, they connect, and then he abruptly disappears. Her halting investigation into his sudden absence eventually intersects with that of a small-town sheriff (Pepe Serna), searching for a man he hit with his car one misty night who later absconded from hospital. This leads them into a murky world of smuggling, money, and identity theft, and it quickly becomes obvious that neither of them really knows what they are doing.
It is refreshing to find a genuine mystery in a noir - one with plenty of dead ends and false starts - but then so much about Man From Reno is surprisingly refreshing. The story starts off as a drama, building the character of Aki, giving us a few glimpses into her past, and making her sympathetic. Likewise the sheriff - a nice man who seems to be good at his job, and who loves his daughter. The mystery only comes into focus about 30 minutes in, and it is almost another hour before the two leads meet. Fujitani and Serna are inspired casting choices; she is all sad eyes and watchful regret, he all laid-back, aged wisdom and nagging worries. The few moments of suspense are nicely-handled, increasing Aki's sense of paranoia.
The whole thing has a quality lacking in modern neo-noir: soulfulness. There are few references to pop culture, barely any violence. Instead there is some emotion in these characters. Aki misses the love of her life, long dead, whose writing gave her the career she has today. The sheriff seems resigned to his daughter leaving him for a place at the FBI. Violence seems to exist in a different cinematic universe from these people.
This means that when it comes, it has devastating, jarring impact. The ending is fantastic.