The creative choice of whether to shoot a contemporary film in black and white is a tough one. If done poorly, the decision could seem to be a cheap grab at added dramatic effect, but when employed effectively, the absence of color can add quite a bit to a film. The lack of color in film can help place a timepiece and make it feel as though it fits the era it is shot. Also, by removing the common element of color, it forces a new perspective from the viewer. It narrows the focus to force a concentration on other elements such as cinematography, acting performances, and set design. It also allows light to play a much larger role in the scenes. Instead of the vast array of colors that could be captured within a shot, the creators are reduced to just two, light, and dark.
Many films have been quite successful with this creative decision. Joel Coen’s recent The Tragedy Of Macbeth did a superb job capitalizing on the medium. Coen was able to create a sort of ethereal realm, separate from any concrete setting. This made the film feel much closer to its source content, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is another contemporary example of a great black and white film, in combination with an atypical aspect ratio, Eggers forces the viewer into a close-up immersion of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson’s acting abilities. The decision isn’t a simple one, and it can completely change how a film is shot, so here are a few recent films that would look great in black and white.
The Last Duel (2021)
The Last Duel is a 2021 film directed by Ridley Scott, and stars Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer. The narrative of the film depicts a knight by the name of Jean de Carrougmes who must settle a dispute with the squire of King Charles VI through a duel, after the direct order of the king. The film already has a relatively dark aesthetic, so the leap into black and white would not be an incredible change in visual composition. The time period, as well as the dark nature of the film would make it well suited for black and white.
The Batman (2022)
The newest addition to The Batman franchise stars Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, and Jeffrey Wright. The film is directed by Matt Reeves and brings us back to Gotham, where Batman must navigate political corruption and organized crime in order to bring down the newest villain of the city, the Riddler. The switch to a black and white format could be jarring for some fans, but it would be a unique way to distinguish this newest installment from the others, and the change would stay true to the film’s gritty style.
The Power of the Dog (2021)
The Power of the Dog is a 2021 dramatic western film directed by Jane Campion and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Jesse Plemons. The film had ten Oscar nominations and won Best Achievement in Directing. The setting of the film is beautiful, but the real success comes from the dialogue and the very strong acting ability on display. The black and white look could be used to highlight the acting ability of the stars and give the film a touch more drama.
Mass is a 2021 film that was both written and directed by Fran Kranz, and tells the story of two couples who attempt to reconcile the fact that one of their children killed the other. The film stars Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, and Ann Dowd. This is another film that relies heavily on dialogue. The film is not necessarily gaining much from its use of color, and the black and white format would concentrate the viewer’s attention on the great performances of the actors.
The 2019 Best Picture Winner resonated with many viewers and provided a unique and engaging story that followed a low-income family hustling their way into various jobs for a much wealthier family. Everything from the acting to the cinematography was beautifully done in this film. The director, Bong Joon-ho, absolutely nails the execution. His use of color in this film is important; the difference in the color palette of the wealthy house compared to where the low-income family lives is an important distinction. However, this film has so much good going for it that it would also be successful in the black and white format. The cinematography is quite unique in that it often highlights simple space and symmetry. The black and white format could work incredibly well with this film, but obviously, it was also still massively successful with its full-color production.
Kimi is a 2022 film directed by Steven Soderbergh, and stars Zoë Kravitz, Byron Bowers, and Rita Wilson. The film tells the story of an agoraphobic tech worker, who, while monitoring the voice commands of an electronic device called Kimi, witnesses what she believes to be a violent crime. The film is full of a lot of colors and is set in a contemporary time period. The use of colors helps to anchor the viewer in the modern era and is accurate in its depiction. However, the black and white aesthetic would bring a unique distinction to the modern crime thriller and would force the viewer to invest more in the dialogue and story.