Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Cage in Sludge

         
 

20 November 2009| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Nicolas Cage’s Terence McDonagh goes into a serious tailspin of drug abuse and corruption in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans. His most intimate relationship is with Eva Mendes as Frankie, a prostitute who still has her looks even though she snorts along with Terence. Somehow Terence gets his woman entangled with a murder and a drug sting, but that doesn’t stop Terence’s tumble into debasement. He harasses an old woman dependent on an oxygen tank, stacks on a gambling debt, does some salacious bargaining with a young woman caught with drugs, and raids the evidence room at headquarters. Harvey Keitel played this role seventeen years ago in a film with a slimmer and more condensed screenplay. This film is ambitious but overly stressed, and it is annoyingly long.

The new Bad Lieutenant is somehow not a remake, a sequel or an update to Abel Ferrara’s unforgettable 1992 film (rated NC-17) simply called “Bad Lieutenant.” They shouldn’t be compared, and yet somehow, you want to compare them. The first film is hypnotic, this new film gets stuck in plot-heavy sludge. Werner Herzog’s film is scattershot, a smorgasboard of superfluous storylines, and many of them you will not care enough about. The last thing I wanted were a number of wispy scenes about the “big” case, a case I especially never cared about. There was also a big case in Ferrara’s film but somehow it had spiritually-challenging impact that integrated to what was going on in the Lieutenant’s inner life.

Understand that Herzog is one of the greatest. I still attest that “The Godfather” was not the best film of 1972, Herzog’s “Aguirre the Wrath of God” was and it remains one of the most breathtaking films ever made. Herzog has made another half dozen masterworks and an assorted amount of other good films in his career. But in this case, it should be learned that Herzog should stay out of urban American movies. Herzog crafts some good scenes and mercilessly gazes at the dilapidated underbelly of a tattered city, but spliced in-between are a lot of forced encounters and synthetic melodrama hubbub.

The end scenes are so bad that you might be hoping it is a dream sequence. As an indicator of how unassured the project is, Herzog made an egregious error by thinking he needed to tie every thread of plot. This is the worst over-tidying Herzog has ever done.  He has never not trusted his audience before, he has never not trusted that we can on our own connect the ambiguous parts together on our own.

I wanted the detective to revel in more bad behavior. The scene with Cage lambasting the pharmacist has believable stimulated aggression, and the aforementioned scenes demonstrate a certain powerful sordidness. But when Cage demonstrates his trademark facial vulnerability I felt like I was watching Cage channeling Jimmy Stewart on drugs. The more Cage goes over-the-top the better, and if anything, selected critic feedback has been wrong to accuse Cage of going over-the-top. I don’t think Herzog accepted the idea to let Cage go all the way to make his character unsavory.

Keitel in 1992's "Bad Lieutenant"Which goes back to Ferrara’s film. Now that we have seen another actor do this role it is more clear than ever that Harvey Keitel’s 1992 performance (see pic, right) is one of the greatest we have ever had on-screen, and now that Cage has done the bad lieutenant walk, we know now how fearless Keitel really went with the part. One unsuccessful film proves the greatness of another.

122 Minutes. Rated R.

STREET DRAMA / CHARACTER STUDY / DOWNHEARTED

Film Cousins: “Prince of the City” (1981); “Colors” (1988); “Internal Affairs” (1990); “Bad Lieutenant” (1992).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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