Aftereffects of Valentine's Day: I put The Big Easy(1987) on hold at the library. I saw it for the first time on cable maybe a year or so after it came out, so I would have been about 12 or 13. It is the first movie I think I ever watched and though, "huh, this is sexy." It may have cemented my love of Southern music and skinny men with wolfish grins.
If you've never seen it, it's a pretty good noir thriller set down in New Orleans. Well, New Orleans--the movie just breaks your heart right there. It's got a great cast--Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, Ned Beatty, John Goodman, Grace Zabriskie. It's an odd movie in that there's actually conversations amongst the characters. Am I the only one who watches movies these days and and wishes for more dialogue? It seems like scenes in which characters converse have been replaced by music videos and there's an over reliance on music to convey emotion and manipulate the viewer. (Case in point: Juno.)
So the plot is this: there's corruption in the New Orleans Police Department. There's also some activity amongst the organized crime in the area, the usual drug smuggling and murdering. Oh yeah, it's connected. DA Anne Osbourne is investigating the cops which puts her in the path of Lt. Remy McSwain and his sliding scale of personal morality. He seduces her and then she prosecutes him on corruption charges, then they fight a bit and investigate together and the cold hard slap of truth wakes McSwain up to the evils of the petty corruption and how it slides into your soul and grows when you are not watching. That and true love, cherie.
Here's the rub--you think from the description above that it's a big ol' boy film and the girl's just along as eye candy, right? Oh no. The film doesn't work without the strong characterization of Anne. She's definitely flustered by McSwain (hello, wolfish grin, six pack abs and amazing hands!) but she stands up to him on how he uses his position as a cop to score favors and accept bribes. She prosecutes him without hesitation after she sees him taking a bribe, although not without regret. The girl's tough even when she trembles, foiling a mugging, smashing a car window and in the end being a full participant in saving herself. Throughout the movie you believe that Anne's smart, she's good at her job and generally got it together--mostly a good role model. The best bit is when she lays into McSwain with the words "Don't you dare be amused by me." And after a point, even though it's layered over with his desire to bed her, as a viewer you realize that, yes, he does respect her. Huh. And that's just one of the sexy bits.
There's a couple of things in the film you just do not see anymore. The clothes are spectacularly bad, especially for the women. The mid 80's were a time of shoulder pads and baggy skirts. The one female homicide cop wears primary colored men's clothing, including a tie. And that's just in the first scene. Anne's business suits look to be 2 sizes too big, which is in tune with her reserved, business-like character. The other thing is that she looks like a working adult--when's the last time on tv or in a film you saw a female attorney in conservative dress that didn't show off her figure? You have to remember that this movie came 20 years ago and that yes, the clothes reflect the time but also the position of women. A woman in power in the DA's office didn't get there in a lowcut blouse. I did however have shuddering flashbacks at the size of her reading glasses--every picture of me as a kid has me in similar owl glasses that overpowered my face. There's also a scene when Remy is discussing his arrest and suspension with his younger brother, who then pulls out a joint--holy casual drug use without censor, man!
It's a fun movie with great storytelling that just flows along. If you haven't seen it, check it out. If you have seen it recently, what did you think?