Night Zoo

  • 1987
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Crime

A much-heralded Canadian picture from first-time director Lauzon that sets a father-son relationship against a glossy backdrop of Quebec's criminal underworld. Maheu, a former drug dealer for corrupt cop Houde, emerges from prison after a two-year stint. The night before his release, however, a homosexual prisoner rapes Maheu on orders from Houde. The rape...read more

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A much-heralded Canadian picture from first-time director Lauzon that sets a father-son relationship against a glossy backdrop of Quebec's criminal underworld. Maheu, a former drug dealer for corrupt cop Houde, emerges from prison after a two-year stint. The night before his release,

however, a homosexual prisoner rapes Maheu on orders from Houde. The rape is a warning to Maheu, who, before beginning his term, skimmed $200,000 and a cache of cocaine from Houde. The money is safely hidden away in Maheu's uncle's restaurant, but when Maheu goes to retrieve it, he finds it

missing. The money is later returned to Maheu by his father, Le Bel, an old man with a heart condition who has kept the loot out of Houde's reach. Le Bel, whose wife has just left him, wants nothing more than to be reunited with his son. He dreams of going fishing and hunting like a father and son

should. Maheu thinks his father is a bit crazy and prefers to return to Quebec's fast lane. Houde, who is now partnered with the sadistic homosexual Brass, keeps a close watch on Maheu, threatening to harm his father and his former girl friend, Adams, if the missing cash doesn't surface. Maheu

then pays a visit to Adams, a leather-clad punk, whom he violently makes love to on a rooftop before riding off into the night on his motorcycle. In an effort to renew his relationship with his father, Maheu takes him on a fishing trip. Drifting on a placid, fog-shrouded lake, father and son

strengthen their bond--fishing, making moose calls, and sharing laughs. For Le Bel's birthday, Maheu buys a hunting rifle and promises to take his father moose hunting. In the meantime, Maheu has been pressured by Houde and Brass into paying back the money after the pair nearly kill Adams in the

peep-show booth where she works. Maheu, however, outsmarts the cops and guns down both of them in a seedy sex motel. In the meantime, Le Bel has a heart attack and is hospitalized. Rather than forget about the hunting trip, Maheu arrives at his father's bedside with a movie projector. He blows

some cocaine up his father's nose, and together they watch a super-8 wilderness film of a moose. If that isn't enough excitement for one night, Maheu puts his father in a wheelchair, arms him with his hunting rifle, and takes him to the nearest zoo. Since this zoo doesn't have a moose, the

ecologically minded father and son decide to bag an elephant. Later, Le Bel's condition worsens, leaving Maheu to care for him. Le Bel then dies happily, having regained the devotion of his son.

Carried by its highly polished visual style, NIGHT ZOO is a brutal, misanthropic, sleazy crime film that is only made worthwhile by the heartfelt and somewhat sappy father-son relationship that offsets the violence. NIGHT ZOO attempts to show the contradictions of a nasty character who survives in

a dangerous world, yet has very human and gentle feelings toward his father. Unfortunately, the film doesn't reach the level of complexity that one hopes it would, failing to capture the more profound ambiguity of Coppola's "Godfather" films. The seedy underbelly of Quebec that is exposed is no

different from that captured in countless other flashy crime pictures of late, from DIVA to SUBWAY to 1987's dazzling Canadian entry BLIND TRUST (POUVOIR INTIME)--sadistic, perverse, and essentially one-dimensional. In NIGHT ZOO's criminal universe all the men are supermacho, wearing tight blue

jeans and leather jackets, flashing their big guns and riding down the street on their big motorcycles. Along with all this macho posing comes a built-in misogyny that is directed at Adams, the only woman in the film. Apparently her only purpose in life is to be physically, verbally, sexually, and

emotionally abused by every man she meets. What separates NIGHT ZOO from other films in this league is the parallel father-son story. Although director Lauzon seems content to fill his criminal world with cliches, he treats the father-son relationship with some heart. Le Bel's character is a truly

sympathetic one who will do anything to impress his son. He is a beaten man who has been deserted by his wife, ignored by his relatives, and victimized by his ailing heart. However, just when Lauzon gains audience sympathy (in the hospital scene), he resorts to the pathetic (but supposedly funny)

scene in which Maheu blows cocaine into his father's nose, nearly choking the already weak-hearted man. The two then become thoroughly reprehensible when they proceed to the zoo and kill an elephant. While these scenes could have meant something had they explored the pathetic qualities of the two

characters, they instead are played for laughs. Along with I'VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING, NIGHT ZOO has attracted a great deal of attention, continuing to arouse an interest in Canadian cinema, which reached a high point in 1987 with Denys Arcand's THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE, Anne

Wheeler's LOYALTIES, and Leon Marr's DANCING IN THE DARK. (In French and English; English subtitles.) (Violence, sexual situations, substance abuse.)

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  • Released: 1987
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: A much-heralded Canadian picture from first-time director Lauzon that sets a father-son relationship against a glossy backdrop of Quebec's criminal underworld. Maheu, a former drug dealer for corrupt cop Houde, emerges from prison after a two-year stint. T… (more)

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