Synopsis Example (Crime/Noir): “The Big Easy”

Here’s another example of a fiction summary, which can be used as a guide for writing your novel synopsis. (See all my synopsis examples here.) This time it’s The Big Easy (1987), a crime/noir story. There’s a lot of New Orleans flavor in this story that I had to nix here, as a synopsis is not designed to show the spice, but rather the three acts. It was important to show Remy’s arc, more than explain the small, interesting elements of the story, such as voodoo or zydeco music.

 


 

REMY MCSWAIN is a smooth-talking New Orleans police lieutenant with a Cajun-Irish family background who comes from a long line of cops. Remy is called to investigate the murder of a local mobster and meets ANNE OSBORNE, a by-the-book state district attorney sent to investigate alleged police corruption in the city.

Remy takes Anne to dinner at a Cajun restaurant, and she quickly witnesses the corners he cuts on a daily basisfrom running red lights to not paying restaurant bills in exchange for extra protection for that establishment. Anne accuses Remy of being on the take, and he accuses her of not having the first clue about how New Orleans “works.” While he alludes to some questionable activity on his own part, he believes his vices permissible because he is, deep down, “one of the good guys.” Remy’s and Anne’s opposites-attract attraction blossoms, and the sexually-shy Anne is fully seduced by Remy’s New Orleans charmbut their newfound physical romance is put on hold after more underworld figures turn up dead in what looks to be an all-out war for control of the heroin trade.

Remy stops by a strip club to pick up a small payoff from the owner, only to be caught in a videotaped Internal Affairs sting. Anne prosecutes him in court, and she quickly moves her duty to the state ahead of her feelings for Remy. With help from his police friends (including several cousins who are cops), the key videotape evidence is lost and Remy beats the rap. He celebrates with a old-school Cajun party, where he happily learns that his longtime mentor, CAPTAIN KELLOM, will marry his single mother. Anne appears and chastises Remy for bending the rules at every turn; she accuses him of no longer being one of the good guys. Remy becomes unsure of his path in life.

More area drug lords die, and Remy finally realizes that corrupt cops are actually behind the deaths. In an effort to reclaim his integrity, Remy assists Anne in investigating his own departmentsomething that alarms his longtime friends/cops. In retaliation, Remy’s younger brother is shot by unseen gunmen. Outside the hospital, a desperate Remy turns to Capt. Kellom for help, only to learn his longtime mentor is himself involved in the heroin corruption. Remy tells Kellom he is no longer welcome in the McSwain family, and their conversation turns violent and almost deadly.

Guilted, Kellom heads to the drydocks at night to put an end to the heroin dealings, but is shot by fellow corrupt cops who don’t want their profitable venture ended. Remy and Anne appear at the pier, and Remy gets into a firefight with Kellom’s two cop conspirators. Remy wins the gun battle and saves Anne from harm. In the final scene, Remy and Anne enter a honeymoon suite as newlyweds.


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2 thoughts on “Synopsis Example (Crime/Noir): “The Big Easy”

  1. Les Edgerton

    Chuck, another great example of a good synopsis. This is so valuable to writers. I send my clients and students here to look at your synopsis examples as I think you show the best in the business.

    This one, though, had me shaking my head. Not at your example of a good synopsis—that was spot-on. No, at the movie itself, which has nothing to do with what you’re providing here.

    But, as a native New Orleanian, this was possibly the worst movie ever using New Orleans as the setting! I use it all the time as the prime example of how movies screw up.

    There are so many things wrong with how this was filmed, it’s hard to know where to begin. First, no one had a “correct” New Orleans’ accent except Dennis Quaid’s mother… except, she didn’t have a New Orleans accent. She had a Cajun accent, which isn’t a New Orleans’ accent, but an accent indigenous to places like Houma and Placquine, et al. Yes, there are Cajuns in New Orleans, but there are Cajuns in Los Angeles also, and that doesn’t make a Cajun accent the native accent out there, either. The guy who played a minor role—the police chief—did have an actual accent, but he’s a local actor.

    And then, there’s a scene where Quaid and Barkin are in the bullpen of the police department and Quaid gets ready to leave and he says, “I’ll see you guys later.” I fell off my seat when I heard that at the movie. He’s supposed to be a native from New Orleans and he says “you guys?” Never, ever, in eleven million lifetimes would a native every say “you guys,” especially with a woman present. I don’t care if he went to Harvard (which the character didn’t), he wouldn’t say “you guys” under any circumstances, unless he wanted everyone to look at him like he had three heads. It’s always “y’all.” Always. (And never that Yankee-induced monstrosity that I’ve never heard outside of movies, that “you-all.” Where’d that come from?).

    There’s a scene where he and Ellen are in a car and are driving in town. This was priceless. They’re on the street in front of Café du Monde, which is 3-4 blocks long. The drive takes probably five minutes and he’s on the same street all the time. I couldn’t figure that one out at all until I watched it the second time and saw what they did. They’d drive the three blocks and then turn the car around and drive back and turn around and drive back… over and over again. Kind of interrupts the ol’ fictive dream thingy…

    There’s another scene where Quaid’s on a foot chase with a bad guy and it begins in the St. Louis cemetery and ends up going through the Quarters and ends up at the railroad yards. A chase covering roughly 15 miles in “real” miles. I remember thinking that Quaid might do better as an Olympic sprinter as he covered the entire distance in under five minutes… One fast dude…

    But the absolute worst was the restaurants they featured. Court of Two Sisters and Tippetina’s! My God! No native would be caught dead in Two Sisters—it’s a pure tourist trap and caters to rubes from Iowa who think if the prices are high and the waiters are in livery, it’s a “classy” restaurant. The food’s awful and overpriced and no self-respecting native would ever eat there. In fact, I was living there when they made the movie and the only two places natives would eat at in the Quarters were Gallatoire’s and Antoine’s. And… Tippetina’s? You’ve got to be kidding me! Nobody but tourists ever go there. It’s the cheesiest tourist trap in town. It was easy to figure out what happened with these choices. New Orleans is the only place in the country where you should never ask a cabbie or a doorman where to go. They’re all involved in a huge comping system where, when they steer a yokel from Indiana to a place, they get a couple of bucks from the establishment. That’s how Sisters and Tippetina’s get all their business. What we figured was films usually send an assistant producer in advance of shooting to scout out locations, and this schmuck did the tourist thing—asked cabbies and doormen where the “hot” places were and this was how they came to use these joints. In fact, that’s exactly what happened. I was the artistic director at Snobs Styling in Fat City in those days, and one of my stylists, a girl named Donna, worked for the NOLA Film Commission as a hairstylist and she told us that’s exactly what happened. She said she tried to tell them not to go by cabbies’ advice where to go, but they ignored her. It was hilarious. Every single place they used for locations was a tourist trap that no self-respecting native would go near, but are always full of tourists sitting there looking around at… other tourists… It’s hysterical.

    And then… they compounded the error by having Quaid cut in line at Tippetina’s and that’s when we really lost it. If anyone cut in a line anywhere in New Orleans, he’d be shot in a New York second. Multiple times. Wouldn’t matter he was a cop or if he was the mayor. Not in New Orleans. Maybe that goes down in New York, but not in the Big Easy. In fact, a cop or the mayor would get shot quicker! That’s the truth. By the time that happened, we were all looking at each other in the theater and the whole place was in stitches. Some people were just shaking their heads and walking out. Folks in the South are used to Hollywood not having a clue, but this particular movie was the worst I’ve ever seen. I can’t think of a single thing they got right. And, it was a good story. They maybe should have talked to a native before they picked their locations and had another native go over the dialog a bit…

    Now… one movie that did get New Orleans right and was pitch-perfect, was Angel Eyes, starring Mickey Rourke. That was the truest portrait of New Orleans I’ve ever seen in celluloid…

    Again, Chuck, your use of this synopsis was great and this has nothing to do with that. Just a look at how Hollywood does things sometimes… In New Orleans, this movie was seen as a comedy… This post really brought back some memories.

    The moral is, if you go to New Orleans, don’t ask cab drivers and doormen where to go…

    Truth…

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