Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin bring the heat in Jim McBride’s New Orleans noir
Jim McBride’s The Big Easy is an entertaining gumbo of a noir. Set in New Orleans, it charts its course through a tale of police corruption that would feel anodyne if it took place anywhere else. The story revolves around a series of murders and the brash detective on the case. It’s as tried and true and you can get with crime story. But The Big Easy has a couple aces to play that sets it apart. Chief among them is New Orleans itself. With its jazz-infused score and shot on location verisimilitude, New Orleans is rightly the star of the show. Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray release brings some shine to the fun piece of 80’s pulp.
Dennis Quaid stars as Detective Remy McSwain, lead investigator of a murder that puts him in the middle of a potential mafia war. Remy is not quite a loose cannon, but Quaid plays him with the cocksure arrogance of one. Quaid is reliably good, but it’s his accent work that takes Remy to a different stratosphere of engaging. There are moments in the film where the accent threatens to devour Quaid whole and other times where Quaid wields it with the lethality of Remy’s firearm. I hope this doesn’t come off as condescending, because it’s genuinely entertaining and a key part of Quaid’s boisterous performance.
Remy’s sparring partner for most of the film is District Attorney Anne Osborne (Ellen Barkin), sent to the Bayou to investigate Remy’s department for corruption. Anne and Remy spend a lot of time together, drawing each other into their respective worlds. Barkin is tasked with the trickiest role in the film, one that could easily slip into cliché. It will not surprise anyone to hear that Remy and Anne develop something personal. Barkin gives the character a healthy dose of skepticism, so even as the script has the character fall for Remy, Anne never comes across as gullible. As Anne and Remy dig deeper into the seediness around them, they each become more isolated in their work roles, which in turn draws them closer to each other.
The crime side of the story is solidly built, so fans of the genre should be satisfied with that. But the movie lives and dies by the work of Quaid, Barkin, and the city. The movie is at its best when we’re watching Remy and Anne work the neighborhoods and nooks and crannies of New Orleans. The film eschews the glossiness that strips bigger productions of their personality. The Big Easy feels like a living, breathing entity. That keeps the film engaging all the way through. This is an entertaining film worth checking out, whether it’s the first time or a revisit.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray transfer gives the film a sharp, lively presentation. The only special feature is a new commentary track with McBride and filmmaker Douglas Hosdale. McBride is generous with production details and offers an endless stream of interesting tidbits. Hosdale moderates the conversation, guiding the conversation while also allowing plenty of room for diversions. It’s a supplemental feature in the truest sense of the word, it enhances what’s already a fun film. Crime junkies should take note of this release.
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