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The Big Easy

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Big Easy

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin
Director: Jim McBride
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: August 1987
Genres: Drama, Romance, Suspense

*Also starring: Ned Beatty, John Goodman, Ebbe Roe Smith, Charles Ludlam, Lisa Jane Persky, Tom O'Brien, Grace Zabriskie

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

When he compared two of the best dramatists of his age, Greek philosopher and scholar Aristhoteles said: "Sophocles shows the people as they should be, and Euripides shows them as they are." Two and half thousands years later, that statements still rings true. Flaws of human nature provide causes for conflict, and without conflicts there wouldn't be any dramas. Without dramas, whole modern entertainment industry, at least the one we know it, wouldn't exist. And, besides, flawed characters are usually fun to watch, while ideal aren't. That ancient wisdom could be witnessed in THE BIG EASY, 1987 movie by Jim McBride, one of the more entertaining examples of the police thriller genre.

The movie is set in New Orleans, colourful American metropolis known for its exotic looks, mystique and century-old traditions. One of such traditions seems to be wide- spread corruption within New Orleans Police Department. Lieutenant Remy McSwain (Dennis Quaid) doesn't seem to see anything wrong with it; on the contrary, he is on the take himself, but still considers himself a good cop. However, his personal code of ethics is challenged, same as the peaceful coexistence between police and organised crime. Someone is killing major drug dealers and Mafia figures in town, and such events, that could lead to gang war, are bringing attention of Anne Osborne (Ellen Barkin), special prosecutor in charge of police corruption. At first intrigued by the fact that cop-busting attorney shows so much interest in a simple feud between the bad guys, McSwain decides to help her. But, as the investigation continues and more bodies pile up in the streets, McSwain witnesses growing attraction between the two.

THE BIG EASY presents a challenge to anyone who would like to put movies into genre folders; it isn't thrilling enough to be called "thriller", and it isn't funny to be called "drama" and it isn't funny enough to be "comedy". Yet, despite its own genre ambiguity, it is probably one of the most charming films of the previous decade. Plot doesn't matter in this film - Daniel Petrie Jr. didn't bother too much with that element of his script; but the real treasure of the movies are the characters. Remy McSwain is presented as easy-going fellow, who cracks jokes in the presence of dead bodies and whose unstoppable charm can wiggle him out of any situations; Dennis Quaid is in his acting prime, and the role of Remy is probably one of the best performances in his career. His partner is equally seductive Ellen Barkin, but she manages to hide her feminine charm under the guise of inquisitorial Dragon Lady that would make even like Kenneth Starr tame in comparison. However, the real strength of this movie lies in the combination of those two actors; their sexual chemistry is unbelievable and as soon as they meet, the viewer is only left to wonder when, and not if, should two of them end in bed. When something like that finally happen, director Jim McBride, who has some experience with explicit erotica in the movies, shows their encounter in most realistic, yet equally charming fashion.

Other characters also contribute a lot to the movie's appeal, mostly by illustrating a colourful and easy-going nature of New Orleans. The most notable is slimy but cultivated lawyer Lamar Parmentel, played by stage actor Charles Ludlam in the cinematic role of his life; Cajun mystique is also presented by McSwain's tough and protective mother, played by Grace Zabriskie, actress who usually takes less appealing roles. Of course, minor roles are also reserved for capable character and comic actors like Ned Beatty, John Goodman and Lisa Jane Persky. Even one of the local celebrities, Louisiana State judge Judge Jim Garrison (immortalised as the hero of Oliver Stone's controversial epic JFK), gets an opportunity to play himself in a cameo role. Apart from characters, another things that could please the viewers is a clever use of local zydeco music, whose uplifting tunes make this film cheerful instead of depressing.

Darker tones, however, do appear in THE BIG EASY, but too late. The movie makers were simply forced to include the obligatory elements of conventional thriller in the movie, but they didn't do a good dramatic transition in that direction. Our hero suddenly develops a crisis of conscience, begins changing to moral and upstanding lawman and finally, together with his new lover and crime-fighting partner, takes care of the bad guys in a inevitable showdown. The movie lacks real finale, and one, presented by the movie, isn't cathartic enough to improve the final impression. However, despite those shortcomings, THE BIG EASY is great fun while it lasts.

Copyright 1998 Dragan Antulov

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