Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Critic's Notebook: From 'Hard Times' To This Week's 'Bullet to the Head,' How Walter Hill's Movies Tap Into the Essence of New Orleans

By Vadim Rizov | Indiewire February 1, 2013 at 8:26AM

Critic's Notebook: From 'Hard Times' To This Week's 'Bullet to the Head,' How Walter Hill's Movies Tap Into the Essence of New Orleans
0
Walter Hill's "Bullet to the Head."
Walter Hill's "Bullet to the Head."

Walter Hill's 1975 debut "Hard Times" was shot in New Orleans, albeit one dressed for a '30s setting. He returned for 1989's "Johnny Handsome," so this week's new released "Bullet To The Head" is his third visit -- and the first after Hurricane Katrina's devastation. The disaster inevitably changed the city's on-screen charge.

In 2002, Louisiana passed new legislation entitling productions that spend a minimum of $300,000 in the state to a tax credit equivalent to 30% of their budget. The program's budgetary efficiency has been questioned, but states constantly steal production from each other through these tactics. (E.g., Louisiana's budgetary incentives stole work away from the until-then booming Texas industry.)

In Katrina's wake, the state's tax incentives had the unexpected side effect of offering financial bait to record the devastation. The first filmmaker I recall taking up the challenge was Tony Scott with 2006's "Deja Vu," which plunged right into the flooded, rotting houses and general muck of an assaulted city. The inciting incident is the bombing of the Algiers ferry, which runs from the East to West Bank. In operation since 1827, its explosive detonation operates as a simile for the levees breaking. "Deja Vu" skips over familiar signifiers of New Orleans -- jazz parades on the streets, carnivals and krewes, French Quarter debauchery -- instead locating itself at a particularly depressing historical moment. "Katrina only made us stronger," a poster announces in the background, but the message is undercut by what we see.

Movies that engage with the city's recognizable landscape without getting touristic or overly despairing are relatively rare.

Obviously, not every film shot in New Orleans post-Katrina is a post-Katrina New Orleans film. Some movies use it as an inexpensive substitute for another urban environment, like last year's "21 Jump Street," which deliberately avoids naming its location; if you weren't from there, you'd never guess where the film was shot.

Other movies use New Orleans' most barren areas to stand in for other urban casualties. In last year's "Killer Joe," New Orleans is supposed to be Dallas, but it's the Dallas of down-and-out marginal losers, not the haven of oil millionaires. Likewise, "Killing Them Softly" relocates George V. Higgins' novel "Cogan's Run" from '70s recession-era Boston to an unnamed but similarly blighted locale. The streets are empty, with windblown newspapers and detritus serving as this landscape's contemporary tumbleweeds.

New Orleans can support this kind of abuse: Just as it has enough anonymous highways and interiors for "21 Jump Street," there are enough decrepit areas without architecturally specific features to stand in for generic dispossession. Movies that engage with the city's recognizable landscape without getting touristic or overly despairing are relatively rare. 2009's John Cena action vehicle "12 Rounds" gives it a shot by building an entire action setpiece around an out-of-control trolley car: not a trait unique to New Orleans alone, but an opportunity to show off some distinctive architecture along the way, a challenge the movie otherwise mostly ducks.

In some ways, Walter Hill's revisitation of his first film city seems designed to be a c.-1989 buddy comedy, the kind they don't make anymore. Plot-wise, it's closer to Kevin Smith's (unfairly!) derided 2010 action spoof "Cop Out" than any contemporaneous crime drama. Professional hitman Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) teams up with straight-arrow Washington D.C. cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), two uneasy partners whose current and ex-partners have both been murdered by the same people. The plot's very familiar: corruption in high places, male bonding during car rides, psychotic ex-mercenary henchmen.

"Hard Times."
"Hard Times."

The under-90-minute movie has been seemingly designed to be disconnected from any contemporary New Orleans realities while serving as a checklist of upbeat city signifiers: the inevitable ferry, street jazz parade, a bar with zydeco musicians. The climax, though, is set in the Market Street Power Plant, a different kind of landmark with more local importance than immediately evident. Built in 1905 and defunct by 1973, it still looked plausibly active when Hill shot bare-knuckle fights there for "Hard Times." Thirty-plus years later, in "Bullet To The Head," it's a dilapidated, graffiti ridden, multi-story labyrinth, perfect for an action finale.

It's also thematically relevant for a New Orleans film. The bad guys in "Bullet To The Head" are conspiring to (no spoilers here) take old buildings and turning them into condos and other soullessly profitable ventures. This seems like a generic MacGuffin, but do a little research into the Market Street Power Plant's history and it's all true.

Post Katrina, the property was snapped up by a Miami developer, with the intent of converting it into 1,500 condos, a hotel, and so on. The developers eventually went bankrupt, and subsequent investigation revealed embarrassing levels of something looking very much like official collusion (former mayor Ray Nagin was offered a "piece of the action" in an email, and was subsequently hired to consult on the project).

"We still believe this city has a bright economic future," one of the baddies says. Later, another villain speaks more bluntly: "This city is up for grabs, always has been." In revisiting the Market Street Power Plant, "Bullet To The Head" finds a tacit signifier of New Orleans in continual crisis, a personal landmark from the Hill catalogue with real world resonance.
 

This article is related to: Critic's Notebook, Reviews, Bullet to the Head, Walter Hill, Sylvester Stallone, Hard Times






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More