Sunday, 30 May 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans

Title: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans
Director: Werner Herzog
Released: 2009
Staring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Xzibit, Brad Dourif, Shawn Hatosy, Nick Gomez, Jennifer Coolidge

Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: In the aftermath of Katrina, in New Orleans, Terence McDonagh (Cage) suffers a severe back injury, while rescuing a prisoner from a flooded jail, while also earning himself a promotion to Lieutenant. Struggling to deal with the pain caused by his back he soon finds himself addicted to painkillers, combining it with heavy cocaine use to help relive the pain, while at the same amassing huge gambling debts. Brought in to lead the investigation into the murder of a group of Immigrants, which are rumoured to be linked to local Drug lord “Big Fate” (Xzibit).

Review: The original “Bad Lieutenant” (1992) was an extreme cinema classic, aswell as not being the easiest film to sit through with it’s heavy mix of drugs, rape and Harvey Keitel’s penis, for whom it still remains one of his standout movies (Harvey Keitel that is not his penis). Still it is certainly an interesting choice, to recive the remake treatment or even gain a sequel, but then it is hard to say what this reimagining of the original Abel Ferrara film is, who its safe to say took the news of the film being made, rather badly when he stated that anyone involved in this film “should all die in hell” while calling writer William M. Finkelstein an idiot, for writing the script.

Now seeing Nicolas Cage on the cast listing, might have already had some of you ready to skip this one, which is an opinion I’ve never understood, for although he has made some bad movies, he has at the same time also made some of my favourite films, with his knack for playing oddball and unhinged characters, he is the perfect choice to take on the role of the titular "Bad Lieutenant", especially as the character of McDonagh is just that, a man becoming more unhinged by the day as his dependency on his personal vices increases, while at the same time fighting to maintain not only professional front around his colleagues, but to uphold the same values he’s always held close, which is clear in how involved in the case he becomes, even if he’s less of a professional than he might have once been, clearly playing by his own rules, frequently abusing his position of power whenever given a chance to flash his Lieutenant badge, while threatening suspects and even members of the public, including an elderly woman in a nursing home with his pistol, which honestly looks more like a hand cannon than any standard issue weapon and in many ways making him much like Dirty Harry on a bender, as procedure it seems is just something else to be disregarded especially if it stands between him and getting that next lead.
Still I guess it is Cage’s frequent overacting and zaniness which tends to leave some people cold and it’s true that he’s always been at his best, when he has a director with a firm grip on his reigns, which is certainly something that Director Herzog clearly has, as he picks his spots to let him off the leash to clearly devastating effect, even if the idea of the eccentric Herzog and Cage teaming up might not seem like the best combinations, much like his earlier work with the equally insane Klaus Kinski, whom it could be argued also made some of his best films with Herzog, even if they spent most of their time together trying to kill each other, with Herzog stating once “I had to domesticate the wild beast” when asked about working with his so called friend Kinski somthing which has proved to be great experience for him, as here he helps Cage to churn out not only one of his most memorable, but also certainly one of his most strongest performances in a long time, who clearly relishes the chance to play a truly fascinating character, whom even though he frequently disgusts you with his actions, which include at one point even pimping out his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Mendes) to cover his mounting gambling debts and having sex with a girl in front of her boyfriend, after shaking them down for more drugs to add to his personal stash. Still despite these atrocities he remains strangely watchable in true car crash fashion.

While McDonagh is obviously the main focus, the film still has more than a few interesting supporting characters, from the fiercely loyal Stevie (Kilmer) who might just know more about McDonagh, than he is letting on, to the greasy bookie Ned (Dourif) who constantly feeds of McDonagh’s gambling habit, unafraid to even come into the precinct and harass him about money owed to him, as McDonagh’s personal cover he’s crafted from himself threatens to crack, as more pressure from his vices is piled upon him.
One of the bigger surprises here though is how restrained Herzog is with his direction, only occasionally choosing to freak out the audience, with some surreal moment such as filling the screen with imaginary Iguana’s, shot on a handheld camera, while the strains of “Please Release me” plays in the background, or the break dancing soul of a recently shot gangster, all courtesy of McDonagh’s drug fuelled delusions, while the Iguana scene in particular feels more of an escape for Herzog, who clearly feels that scenes of police procedure are alone not enough to hold his audiences attention and while it’s true the plot could have been lifted from any made for tv crime film, he has somehow managed to lift it above it’s almost pulpy roots, playing around with the crime genre and making the most of his location, as he attempts to take in the sights and sounds of the city which for the longest time, was the more familiar stomping ground for the likes of horror author “Poppy Z. Brite” and here just by using this setting, makes for a refreshing change from the usual cityscapes which are so overly familiar with the genre.

The downside here as to be expected is truly Mendes, who continues to confound me as an actress, especially when I wonder why she is still getting such prominent roles, even more so when she would be much better suited as an attractive supporting character, but yet again here she is, looking out of place as a surprisingly fresh faced prostitute, which is even more surprising when you look at her sheer drug consumption throughout the film, that also makes you wonder if she is only adding to McDonagh’s problems, not only with her chosen profession, but when there are so many scenes of them snorting cocaine together, which feature so prominently throughout, you can’t help but wonder. Still I found the majority of Mendes appearances to be the low points of the film, with a particularly standout moment coming during her argument with McDonagh’s alcoholic mum (Coolidge), which again makes you wonder why he wasn’t more messed up sooner? So while Herzog might be great at getting amazing performances out of some of the more eccentric actors in the industry, even he can’t get a decent performance out of Mendes.
My other main gripe though with the film, had to be towards the end as the pressures really begin to get to McDonagh and he finally looks like he might come undone, that Herzog suddenly decides to give him a reprieve, as one by one all his problems suddenly magically solves themselves, as the film comes full circle with an ending which seems to have been pulled out of seemingly nowhere, as the films just suddenly ends, after having passed a more suitable ending five minutes earlier.

Although not as shocking as the original, Herzog has still created a fantastic reimagining, that is worth checking out not just for it’s unique take on the crime genre, but also for what is without a doubt one of Cage’s most exciting performances in a long time!


  1. I didn't know much about this movie when I watched it and was surprised how good it actually was. Plus Nicolas Cage was pretty great in it, as well. This and "Kick-Ass" may be the movies that win his reputation back.

  2. I definatly agree that he has made some great films recently, but even when he's in awful films like "The Wicker Man" I still find him really watchable.

    I think that alot of people are put off from watching this film, due to people constantly talking about the more sureal moments. I'm still working my way through the Herzog back catalogue and this film, was another great entry.

  3. Nicolas Cage was excellent in this. His performance was insane. He should do more roles like this.

  4. Nicolas Cage always works best when he actually cares about the role, rather than just acting to keep the tax man away.

    Still Herzog is the ideal director for keeping Cage under control, seeing how he has made a career out of working with the Film Industries crazies.

  5. Can't agree more! Herzog and Cage should make more movies together.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...