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No Mercy
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by Jack Sommersby

"Atmospheric, Colorful Crime Tale"
4 stars

Didn't exactly set the world on fire with a box-office take of less than $13 million, it's definitely recommendable and an underrated entry of its genre.

In the derivative but entertaining crime thriller No Mercy, Richard Gere gives one of his finest performances as Eddie Jillette, a Chicago cop who storms down to New Orleans to avenge the vicious death of his partner. The movie is quite the combination of talents in that it’s been scripted by the Vietnam veteran James Carabatsos, who wrote the Clint Eastwood military comedy/drama Heartbreak Ridge and whose penchant for scatological dialogue knows no bounds, and directed by Richard Pearce, who did the low-key talking-heads melodramas Heartland and Country; an eclectic combination, to be sure, and they contribute enough color and energy that there’s not a boring moment anywhere in its one-hundred-and-eight-minute running time. Jillette isn’t a particularly complex character, but Gere, who was effective as the political consultant in Sidney Lumet’s fine Power earlier in the year, and, beefed-up and looking spectacular with his black-gray hair worn long and body-waved, is completely convincing in his role and through sheer star presence elevates the not-always-fresh material. In the knockout opening sequence, Jillette and partner Joey Collins (Gary Basarabra, making an indelible impression in just a few scenes) are working undercover in a downtown car wash where a drug dealer has been doing business in his Cadillac while it’s going through the wash; fearing that the exchange will go down before they’ve had chance to witness it, Jillette takes a crowbar to the windshield midway through the cycle, wrestles with the dealer to where the car crashes, and all they can come up with is a large bag of marijuana, much to the chagrin of their captain for this “chickenshit stakeout.” But the dealer, petrified of doing hard time, offers up some information in exchange for leniency: he’s been sought out by someone from Louisiana to carry out a hit, so Jillette impersonates the dealer and meets the client at a posh restaurant, where they encounter not only the suave, expensively-tailored gentleman but a “heartstopper” on his shoulder, the mysterious Michelle (Kim Basinger); Collins takes Michelle back to her hotel while Jillette and the gentleman take a drive and discuss business. But before Jillette can get the name of the target, while at a railroad crossing a car with four men pull up behind them, Jillette, sensing trouble, bails out, and the car is obliterated by a rocket launcher with the gentleman inside it; an injured Jillette tries making his way back to the hotel, but he’s beaten there by the four men, the leader of whom guts Collins and makes off with Michelle. Soon Jillette arrives in New Orleans, where he’s rebuffed by the murdered gentleman’s snobby lawyer brother; the determined Jillette digs deeper and finds himself caught up in a vast criminal ring involving the lawyer and headed by the dastardly Lasado (a menacing Jeroen Krabbé), who runs a smuggling operation and whose fondness for the knife knows no bounds, which he uses to gut all those who cross him. Jillette locates Michelle, who he presumes is a “two-bit hooker” but who actually “belongs” to Lasado -- Michelle’s impoverished mother sold Michelle to Lasado at the age of thirteen for a house and some money. Eventually, Jillette and Michelle are handcuffed together and lost deep in the bayou (echoes of The Defiant Ones), with Lasado and his well-armed Cajun henchmen in constant pursuit.

As you’ve probably surmised, there’s not a whole lot of originality to found in No Mercy, but it just goes to show when a movie is adorned with an exemplary cast and first-rate technicians, strictly genre entertainment can be indeed be rewarding. Though these are his first action sequences, Pearce gives them some nice touches and executes them with aplomb (watch how he works the open door of a speeding car into the equation); he’s also highly adept at snappy scene transitions, with Alan Silvestri’s alacritous music score perfectly punctuating them. Pearce has the gift of an undeniable eye for composition and movement within the frame (which were considerably absent in his rather dull previous works); he knows where to put the camera for maximum effect and getting as much value out of a scene as possible. I don’t know what he responded to in the contrived script, other than the opportunity to try something new and to see if he could bring it off, and he largely succeeds -- there’s a voluptuous beauty to the production that’s a real eyeful. Surely with the Oscar-winning production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein and the ace cinematographer Michel Brault, he had a lot of help, but they needed collaborative guidance to attain the virtuosity they bring off -- the steel-blue coldness of the Chicago locations, the dirty-tan colors of the humid New Orleans ones, No Mercy is chock-full of atmosphere; the movie has a tactile suppleness without ever going arty on us. (What Pearce nor probably any director on the planet could have done is bring even a smidgen of plausibility to the ludicrous action finale inside a burning downtown motel. It feels tacked-on, as if the studio were afraid of an atypical conclusion and forced the moviemakers to perpetrate this on us.) But there are some neat touches, like Jillette’s captain (the fine George Dzundza) showing unexpected sympathy for Jillette and outrage over the local police’s treatment of his officer, and the irony of the captain ordering Jillette to carry out the assassination of Lasado when Jillette had gotten into this mess in the first place by impersonating an assassin. The growing relationship between Jillette and Michelle is convincing (Gere and Basinger get some serious chemistry going), and though Basinger has been required to scream more times than a horror-movie slasher victim, she manages to serve up character rather than caricature. Ditto Gere. Gere can sometimes be tricky to cast (he was focused and affecting in American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman, indifferent and weak in Beyond the Limit and King David), but he brings a no-holds-barred intensity to the role of Jillette, and there isn’t a moment when we’re not glad he’s around. Gere may not have a whole lot of depth, and the label of “consummate actor” will probably never be attached to him, but when he manages to connect with a role, as he more than does here, he’s able to serve up all the necessary ingredients with splashes of color and charisma. Taken as a whole, No Mercy (an admittedly lame title) hasn’t much in the way of staying power, but for those hungering for something undemanding and well-engineered, you could do a lot worse.

The DVD offers up a handsome anamorphic transfer, but something other than a mere theatrical trailer would've been welcome in the special-features department.

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originally posted: 03/27/15 13:21:29
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell not a bad movie 4 stars
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  19-Dec-1986 (R)



Directed by
  Richard Pearce

Written by
  Jim Carabastsos

  Richard Gere
  Kim Basinger
  Jeroen Krabbé
  George Dzundza
  Gary Basaraba

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