Son of a gun, gonna have big fun down at the bayou: “No Mercy”

October 27, 2015

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

I think in the 1980s there was some kind of an epidemic of partners being murdered. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason any homicides were solved at all in the ‘80s was because a cop’s partner was the victim. Like, 90% of the police work being done was in service of avenging a partner. Fortunately, avenging one’s partner allows for some pretty wide latitude (stealing from undercover FBI agents, invading Japan, etc.) In this, 1986’s No Mercy is a pretty straightforward example of the genre, notable only for its leads and the respective trajectories of their careers.

No Mercy can best be encapsulated as “Chicago cop in the Big Easy (or close to it).” It begins in the middle of a typically brutal Chicago winter, with undercover cop Eddie Jillette (Richard Gere) and his partner Joe Collins (Eddie Basarba) busting a low-level drug dealer. The dealer, however, confesses that he’d been contacted by a player from New Orleans to commit a murder for hire. Dissatisfied with their underwhelming drug bust Eddie and Joe decide to meet the player and bust him for contracting a murder. Naturally, they don’t inform anyone in the department of this, because in the ‘80s keeping your supervisors in the loop was totally for pussies.

I don't have time for a warrant, I'm too busy glowering.

I don’t have time for a warrant, I’m too busy glowering.

Well, the player (Terry Kinney) shows with a beautiful piece of arm-candy named Michel Duval and played by a luminous Kim Basinger. So far so good. Except that as Eddie and Joe try and separate the two and get the full story, the intended target—as Eddie learns, he’s a crime lord named Losado (Jeroen Krabbe)—shows up and totally lays waste to the whole operation by gutting Joe like a fish and blowing up the would-be client with a rifle-launched grenade. Because that’s how we did in the ‘80s.

Naturally, Eddie’s not just going to sit around and let his partner’s murderer get apprehended by another state’s authorities. Instead, he heads to the hot, languid land of Louisiana to hunt Losado down. And of course he does this without informing the NOPD of the case, his partner’s murder or even his presence in their city as an armed law enforcement officer. Because in the ’80s cops cared fuck-all about jurisdiction.

After some traditional ‘80s police work (read: being such a colossal dick you pretty much guarantee no one will cooperate with you), he’s steered in the direction of the town of Algiers, just across the river from New Orleans. Algiers is a moodily-lit den of inequity seemingly under Losado’s complete control. There, Eddie find Michel, whom he promptly handcuffs himself to because…uh…honestly, I’m not sure of his end game there.

How's that investigation going, Eddie?

How’s that investigation going, Eddie?

As you can expect, things go tits-up almost immediately with Eddie and Michel fleeing Losado and his armed thugs like a sexxxay version of the Defiant Ones. Along the way—hold on here, this is a major twist—they fall in love. I know, mindblower right! The two beautiful leads totally hook up.

Well, eventually the NOPD catches up with Eddie and try and send him back to Chicago, but when his boss (George Dzundza) shows up, rather than put him on a plane to face an Internal Affairs investigation, he hands Eddie a case containing a shotgun, .357 Magnum revolver and Beretta 92F semi-auto and orders Eddie to take Losado off the board. Police supervision was different in the ‘80s.

Okay, so yadda yadda yadda, it ends with Eddie going all Home Alone on Losado in a dilapidated Algiers flophouse after Michel flees to him for protection. Eddie kills Losado and his goons and the two of them walk off into the murky New Orleans sunrise, having just burned a local business to the ground.

You know, you could just let the fire do your job for you and not expose yourself to any danger. Just a thought.

You know, you could just let the fire do your job for you and not expose yourself to any danger. Just a thought.

Obviously No Mercy is a piece of simple-minded ‘80s pulp, but it does have its charms. First off, the movie—directed by never-was Richard Pearce—looks pretty great. He coats every scene in the appropriately lurid noirish trappings—steam and grime for the frozen Chicago winter, chintz and neon for New Orleans streets, haze and sweat for the bayou. It’s not terribly creative, but this isn’t a movie that’s shooting for creativity. Besides, there’s something to be said for doing the utterly conventional and predictable with competence.

The screenplay by James Carbatsos does a good job of humanizing Michel and Eddie. Well, mostly Michel. While Eddie is a typical Chicago hothead, Michel is a genuinely tragic figure—a kept woman, having been sold to Losado when she was 13 and living as his slave ever since. This causes a few moments of sharp pain, such as when Eddie realizes that Michel is illiterate, or the finely observed scene when Eddie pauses from booby-trapping the flophouse to shake his head at an especially sad anecdote she blithely shares.

"So...any compunctions about being MY chattel now?"

“So…any compunctions about being MY chattel now?”

As the leads, both Gere and Basinger bring a lot more talent than the movie necessarily deserves. They were both in interesting places in their respective careers at this point. Gere was just beginning his mid-‘80s freefall after a hot streak of American Gigolo, An Officer and a Gentleman, and Breathless. From 1983 until his career comeback with 1990’s Pretty Woman, Gere would mostly struggle with forgettable movies and destructive rumors about his personal life (don’t tell me you haven’t heard the gerbil story).

But if Gere was on the downslope, Basinger’s star was burning the hottest it ever would. Just a year after her jaw-dropping performance in 9 ½ Weeks, she was the walking definition of sex appeal, living short-hand for erotic tension. Putting Basinger in a movie was the equivalent of tossing a concussion grenade into a party—it basically ensures no one’s going to be able to see, hear, or think straight for a time.

As seen here.

As seen here.

The two of them make their generic leads more interesting and relatable than they have any right to be. Gere cranks up his swagger and bluster, playing it against his relatively diminutive stature to hint at a streak of insecurity that just slightly undermines Eddie’s tough-guy act. Basinger, for her part, knows when and how to employ her natural sweetness to contrast it to Michel’s truly horrific life story.

Unfortunately, the movie indulges in some lazy ‘80s mindlessness when it comes to Losado. Krabbe does his best to make his bayou crime legend terrifying, but the reality is that he’s just so ridiculous it’s hard to take him seriously. Incapable of managing a credible Cajun accent, clad in a black duster and leather gloves regardless of the climate (he wears the same outfit in frigid Chicago as well as sweltering Algiers), Losado is a cartoon character. Who, exactly he is, what his feelings toward Michel are—hell, the very nature of his criminal enterprise is totally elided over.

That coat is 90% of his personality.

That coat is 90% of his personality.

So that’s No Mercy. It’s basically just a B-movie, but it’s a good one.

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