BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL - NEW ORLEANS
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer,
Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner
Director: Werner Herzog
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: First Look
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: April 6, 2010
“Shoot him again.”
“His soul is still dancing.”
Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans is one of the most brilliant portraits of true hell I’ve ever been exposed to. It gives us a lead character that’s as immoral as they come and whose prime determination in life is to go as far down the downward spiral as life will allow him. But most importantly, it reminds us why Nicolas Cage is one of our greatest living actors.
Herzog has claimed that his film is in no way connected to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant, in any way, shape, or form. This is not a sequel, nor a remake/reboot. But it does share a number of things in common with the first film, leading me to believe that the goal on behalf of the producers was to set up an anthology of films, each focusing on cop in a different city who’s just as bad as the criminals he’s chasing down.
But I have to say that Herzog’s film is vastly superior to Ferrara’s in so many ways! The first one, which starred Harvey Keitel in what remains his boldest performance to date, is strong in many areas but it just added up to an unpleasant experience for me, and it takes quite a lot for me to find any film unpleasant. Port of Call – New Orleans, while occasionally boasting moments of gritty edginess much like the Ferrara film, is more of an outrageous, whacked-out-of-its-mind dark comedy, and as it unfolds you can certainly see that’s the exact type of tone Herzog was aiming for.
No matter how many corrupt cops you’ve seen in the movies, they will all seem like amateurs once you get to know Terence McDonagh (Cage). When he’s not on duty and executing more than questionable tactics, his only concerns in life are getting high and gambling whatever money he has left. He’s like a combination of Vic Mackey from The Shield and Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
You wouldn’t know that by the film’s opening scene, which shows him doing a good deed. As he and fellow cop Steve Pruit (Val Kilmer) are doing an inventory of their abandoned police station, flooded by the waters of Hurricane Katrina, they spot one leftover prisoner who’s moments away from drowning in his cell. Terence makes a last minute decision to jump in and save the man.
This act of heroism leads to severe back pains. His doctor informs him that he may never fully recover from them. He then gives Terence a written prescription for vicodin, and the newly promoted lieutenant is back on active duty.
Six months pass, and the next time we see Terence he is clearly in a constant drug-induced state. He’s also in the midst of a major homicide investigation involving the execution of a family, the patriarch of which was a low-level drug dealer. After several arrests, Terence turns up with one prime suspect; that of the drug kingpin known as Big Fate (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner).
But Terence has got a lot on his plate at the moment to just be concerned with a homicide, even with one as horrific as the current one. With his drug addiction at an all time high, he is shaking down dealers left and right in order to fuel his coke and crack cravings. He’s also a gambling addict, making frequent visits to his bookie (Brad Dourif), who’s always asking for favors in return, i.e. speeding tickets and such.
Terence also has a girlfriend named Frankie (Eva Mendes), who happens to be a prostitute and a junkie herself. It’s actually the perfect relationship, since both are able to supply each other drugs. He’s also fine with her being a hooker, since it’s means more income for the drugs they need.
If you’ve made it this far in the review, you’re probably wondering how in the name of Pablo Escobar am I giving this film a four star rating. Well, the truth is I find this to be a brilliantly demented piece of filmmaking. If this was a director and actor collaboration other than Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage, though, I seriously doubt the result would’ve been anything close to what we got here.
Nicolas Cage is an actor I’ve always loved and always defended, even while acknowledging that the past several years of his career have been mostly about the paycheck and not so much the art. I was one of very few who found Knowing to be a bold and mesmerizing piece of entertainment, and his turn in The Wicker Man has always brought a smile to my face for an entirely different reason. And hey, he’s had financial troubles as of late, so he really does need the money.
But his performance here, as I mentioned earlier, is a pure illustration of why he is one our most brilliantly gifted and truly fearless actors. It’s a performance that’s right up there with the other remarkable characters Cage has brought to life. This would include Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas, Sailor Ripley in Wild at Heart, Frank Pierce in Bringing Out the Dead, Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Adaptation, Roy Waller in Matchstick Men and Yuri Orlov in Lord of War.
In fact, this film and this character both echo two of the aforementioned films. Terence McDonagh is very reminiscent of Ben from Leaving Las Vegas in that both characters have maddening addictions. Furthermore, there’s no hope in sight in terms of overcoming his addictions, even though both characters experience different fates at the end.
And the film is very similar to Bringing Out the Dead in terms of its story arc. Instead of a traditional beginning, middle and end, the only focus here is Terence and the bizarre world he resides in, that of New Orleans. This perfectly mirrors Dead, which was only concerned with paramedic Frank Pierce and the insane jungle he resides in, that of New York City.
As for Herzog, his filmmaking here is one of a kind; it’s both utterly brilliant and certifiably crazy, as indicated perfectly in two separate scenes. The first is when Terence, high as a kite, sees a pair of iguanas right in front of him during a stakeout. He’s clearly hallucinating, but this is immediately followed by a shot that only Herzog could come up with…from the point-of-view of one of the iguanas, leading me to believe that Terence may have actually seen iguanas!
The second scene takes place with Terence, now in cahoots with the drug kingpin he was aiming to take down, taking a hit off of what he calls his lucky crack pipe. He then delivers what sounds to me like the most convincing crack-induced monologue (if Cage was nominated for Best Actor, and I think he should’ve been, this would be the Oscar clip to use). Then a shootout erupts moments later, and Terence hallucinates once again, this time of one of the victims break dancing. Classic stuff!
I’d be lying if I said this is going to be everyone’s cup of tea, because it simply isn’t. This is definitely a polarizing film, like most Herzog films are. But as it stands, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans is a riveting, eccentric masterwork, featuring a landmark collaboration of actor and director that, as far as I’m concerned, is one for the history books.
Up until now, I don’t believe I’ve experienced a Blu-ray release from First Look, but I’m happy to say that they churned out one awesome looking HD presentation. Herzog’s vision of New Orleans is captured in a rich fashion, and the 1080p makes the setting feel even more authentic than it already does. There’s a heavy dose of hot white in the daytime shots, which look outstanding, and the nighttime shots fair just as well. And those in your face POV shots that Herzog creates look amazing, even in their intentionally grainy form.
The Dolby TrueHD mix accompanies this mostly dialogue-driven piece very well. Every bit of the dialogue delivery is captured terrifically, as is composer Mark Isham’s haunting score to the film. The New Orleans setting is also felt in the capturing of the surroundings and various environments. And a shootout scene, backed up by the sound of a ferocious harmonica, is truly a standout moment!
Included on the Blu-ray is a Digital Photography Book, a featurette titled “The Making of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”, which clocks in at a half hour. Also featured are two trailers for the film, as well as several Bonus Previews.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans is very much the kind of film you want to see when the talents involved are Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage. The filmmaking and the acting (from Cage and everybody in the supporting cast) is of pure top notch quality, and there is never a dull moment in the film. It really is one of a kind!