The question is this. If this is neo-noir, then what's wrong or missing from the neo-noir-o-meter such that it misses this movie?
Femme fatale/homme fatale or other “peril-inducing” character(s): 2/5. Quell is self-destructive. Dodd is controlling. Dodd's processing technique and idea of regression into the past invades a person's identity.
Morally ambiguous characters: 10/10 Dodd's entire setup is questionable as the head of a cult. Quell is taking advantage, his other options being nil. Dodd preys on susceptible people with money.
Alienated protagonist: 10/10 Quell is as alienated as they come. He doesn't fit in anywhere. He's a complete war-induced wreck.
A dupe or a fall guy: 0/5 Not really. Dodd's not a fool and neither is Quell. Neither fools the other. They do a dance.
Violence relative to character development/interaction: 2/10 Quell explodes every so often in defense of Dodd's operation. He's violent underneath.
Characters trapped by past events: 10/10 This depicts Quell strongly.
Degree of character triangulation: 2/10 Not much of this but some. Dodd's wife is against Quell and tries to push him out.
VISUAL (MISE-EN-SCENE/SETTING) ELEMENTS
Color filters; washed out colors; dark colors; enhanced colors: 7/10 Substantial use of darkly lit color, plus retro colors. Closeups often use dark colors and/or shadowing.
Low-angle shooting/Expressionistic techniques: 0/5 The director favors chest and up shots plus closeups, some of which are from a lower angle, but low angles are not a pervasive feature.
A sense of fatalism: 2/20 Not much. There is some sense of characters who may go off the rails.
Use of extreme mise-en-scene (claustrophobic/barren): 7/10 Some conversations are filmed in a very claustrophobic and dark way with big shadowed closeups. .
Use of mise-en-scene to produce alienation: 5/5 Toward the end, there's a desert sequence. The sequence on the boat gives a trapped feeling
Odd camera angles or visual effects/sequences: 2/5 The filming in 65mm seems to produce distortions and detail that amounts to visual effects.
Gritty and/or tawdry and/or rundown and/or industrial setting: 0/5
Upscale office buildings and/or cityscape: 0/5
Isolated rural or small town location and/or extreme natural setting: 3/5 The locations and their handling are a strong point of this movie set in post-WW II America. The small town setting works well with an older style large house and an amazing living room sequence in which Dodd dances and sings and there is full-scale nudity. The boat, a jail, a desert, a beach, and a wonderful department store sequence all work beautifully.
Night club and/or gambling setting: 0/5
Use of flashbacks and/or time inversions: 0/10 Not integral to the story.
A crime at the center of the story:
A betrayal or a double-cross: 3/5 In a way, yes. Quell betrays Dodd in a sense by resisting his technique even though he stays with the family. He does seduce the daughter, his final victory.
Story told from the perspective of criminals: 3/5 In a way, yes. Dodd is a shyster, even if he believes in his own nonsense. Quell assaults people every now and then who criticize Dodd.
Story suffused with black humor: 5/5 Yes, Hoffman supplies plenty. Quell supplies humor throughout, as in his alcoholic concoctions and his interviews.
False accusation or fear of same: 0/5
Sexual relationships with respect to plot development: 2/5 Some, but not a lot unless you grade the Dodd-Quell relationship higher, but I don't.
Plot dependent on corruption: 7/10 Not of the usual kind, but it's there. The war corrupted Quell's being. Dodd is improvising his cult. He's making it up as he goes along as others suggest.
A spoken narrative: 0/5
Bleakness of denouement: 3/10 More or less on the ambiguous side. Quell beds the daughter. Dodd is left a somewhat sad figure who couldn't alter Quell's being significantly.