New Orleans is an iconic location in cinema with the memorable films “Angel Heart,” “Down By Law,” and “The Fugitive Kind.” Each has a kind of anxious and unsettling tone. One can now add a new film to the list: “Blue Bayou” by Justin Chon.
The film is heartfelt, compelling and strikingly emotive, not without its noir elements.
Antonio (Justin Chon) is a Korean man, adopted by American parents some forty years ago. He is hard working and though he has a past criminal record, he is now straight. Antonio is in a serious relationship with the sweet and easygoing Kathy (Alicia Vikander). Kathy has a daughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske) from a previous relationship.
Antonio does all he can to find work, but no one steady is hiring. He works at a tattoo parlor.
During a grocery trip, Antonio and Kathy argue about vacation plans. Kathy’s ex Ace (Mark O’Brien), a police officer, is strolling through a store with his patrolman friend (Emory Cohen). Ace wants to see if he can get under Antonio’s skin, especially since he was given the brush off by Kathy on the phone. Antonio wants to defuse the situation but he cannot and walks away. Ace’s ego as an officer and a spurned lover is affronted. Both Ace and his friend knock Antonio down and have him pressed violently into the floor. They pummel him.
Antonio and Kathy seek legal counsel. The lawyer (Vondie Curtis-Hall) relates that Antonio is under imminent deportation since he has a criminal record which Ace wants to underscore, essentially pressing charges of battery against Antonio.
Antonio and Kathy have no money to appeal their case. Antonio tries to assert himself as a tattoo artist but he is left dispirited. He rejoins the black market in the stealing of expensive motorcycles.
Antonio is a kind empathetic person. Everywhere that he goes, he is seen as a suspicious stranger with ulterior motives. He is forced by the eyes of others to always look behind. Danger lurks within a shade of police officer blue. All Antonio can do is continue on, but he is a haunted, hunted man.
All the performances are first rate here. Chon completely embodies the warm and sensitive Antonio and Vikander is perfect as a newly expecting mom who is pushed to the limit. The actor Linh-Dan Pham is startling as a gentle patron of Antonio’s tattoos who lifts him up when he is at bottom.
The family sequences between Chon and Kawalske are spontaneous and engaging. The story’s most subtle and tranquil scenes hold you in with comfort and humor.
Antonio is not without his ghosts, but he does the best he can with them. He is open and self-aware in all of his battles with motherly demons. Antonio’s birth mother is a kind of siren who attempts to lure him into a watery abyss, free of guilt and memories. In this way the film resembles “Angel Heart.” Spanish moss is heavy with sadness and the hues of green and gray have never been more eerie.
Though “Blue Bayou” does have a tear jerker punch, it is never maudlin. Chon and Kawalske have an authenticity and a presence and their glib emotions spill over so that one can forgive any theatrical tissue-plucking. In Justin Chon we see a complete and compassionate father who is up against it and he is very near a hero.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org