The Big Easy (1987)

28 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Big Easy” starts out as a thriller, and then it turns into an erotic romance. Then it goes back to being a thriller again and then an erotic romance again, until the film finally becomes a romance/thriller. That usually comes rare in the movies, since in most thrillers, whatever romance develops isn’t quite as important as its own central story. But “The Big Easy” manages to keep consistency in both elements.

As you may have guessed, the Big Easy in the title refers to the nickname of New Orleans, Louisiana. And New Orleans is quite a unique city to set a thriller, as it’s one of the most mysterious cities, as far as I’m concerned. It’s humid and quite eerie with its many alleyways and courtyards. There had to be a thriller to come around and use it as its location.

“The Big Easy” starts with an investigation of the dead body of a Mafia (or “wise-guy”) member, found lying in a fountain. We meet our two main characters who are on the case. They’re a police lieutenant named Remy McSwain (Dennis Quaid) and an assistant district attorney named Anne Osborne (Ellen Barkin). They meet in Remy’s office and are immediately attracted to each other, despite Anne wanting to keep this a professional relationship. They go out to dinner that night, and she rightfully accuses Remy of being on the take, to which Remy responds by saying she doesn’t know how the system works around here.

After some bickering between them, they wind up forming a passionate love affair with each other, mainly because Remy is too persistent. But after a couple days, their affair ends when Remy is caught on videotape while accepting payoffs in an Internal Affairs sting. Anne becomes his prosecutor, which makes things pretty tense for both of them.

Anne takes her job (and burden) seriously, despite her affair with Remy, and she nearly puts him in jail. But with the help of some folks at the station, the evidence is destroyed and Remy gets off scot-free. Anne wants to forget about all of this, but Remy has arranged for her to be “arrested” and brought to his mother’s house, where a party is being held and Remy would like to dance with her, as he’s still in love with her. This is a great scene.

But soon enough, more killings continue and it seems like someone on the police force might be involved, and so Remy and Anne work together again. While doing so, their romance is further developed.

“The Big Easy” is great because it manages to take a string of these nicely-developed, interesting characters and manages to fit them into a thriller that is not one of those assembly-line thrillers, but a real interesting caper that gets more intriguing and investing as it goes along. I wasn’t expecting much from the story in the first few minutes as much as I was enjoying the company of these characters on-screen. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that I was really getting into the mystery. And when one of the characters that I have become accustomed to turns out to be involved with the bad guys, I was actually pretty surprised because I didn’t want that person to be associated. That lets you know a thriller is working.

The two leads are intriguing roles and real three-dimensional characters as well. Remy, we see, is both honest and dishonest in doing his duty as a cop. Sometimes he does the wrong things, but for what he thinks are the right reasons—like arranging a “widow and children’s fund” so he can use the money to keep his younger brother (Tom O’Brien) through college. He’s also cocky and very persistent, and that’s how he usually gets his way. But that doesn’t mean that Anne isn’t a tough cookie. She’s smart, fierce, and will do anything to get what she needs, and yet she falls for this guy because she notices his charm. Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin do excellent jobs at playing these characters, and their love scenes are some of the most erotic I’ve seen in a movie—it’s mostly realistic.

But the supporting characters are given time to develop and shine. There’s the sincere police chief (Ned Beatty, excellent here) who isn’t constantly arguing with Remy like most chiefs, but actually fools around with him because the two are good buddies. And there are the other guys down the station, constantly making wisecracks at each other, even at a crime scene. There’s Remy’s younger brother who comes in at the wrong times. And last but not least, in fact he’s my favorite supporting character—Lamar Parmentel (Charles Ludlam), a Cajun-accented defense attorney in a Panama hat and a summer suit.

New Orleans also seems like a major character in the movie—no wonder the movie is called “The Big Easy.” The feel of the city is just right—the people, the locations, the music, and even the food are given notice as colorful New Orleans elements.

Sure, the movie ends with a typical showdown involving Remy and Anne versus the revealed killers, but even that’s well-done. It’s not as long as most climaxes go, and it even does the smart thing by making it seem like the characters’ actions are in their nature. “The Big Easy” is not just a thriller, and it’s not just a romance either. Those expecting either of those will be surprised by a great movie.

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