Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (2009) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (2009)

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ANDREW LIKEThe only way I was able to approach this Bad Lieutenant remake was with extreme caution and suspicion.  The quality of most Werner Herzog films is a bit over exaggerated, Nicolas Cage hasn’t done any engaging acting in over five years, the title is incredibly unwieldy, and it’s a remake of a film that told the story of a dirty cop’s redemption in such precise detail that a remake seemed more than unnecessary – it sounded insulting.Consider my suspicions soundly destroyed after watching Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans.  It is such an insane, off the rails black comedy that hurls so many scenes of screwy, nervous improvisation that it is at times exhausting, but incredibly inventive and very rewarding.

The similarities between the original and the remake are so superficial that they hardly matter.  Key to the success of both films are lead performances of Keitel in Bad Lieutenant and Cage in Port of Call.  No one could accuse either actor of holding back, and in the case of both movies the director knew exactly how to play to his leads strengths.  Keitel’s performance is one of such naked need and desperation that it is impossible to replicate, and Abel Ferrara (director of Bad Lieutenant) set the stage for the story and visuals to reflect his need.  Cage and Herzog, very wisely, pull a 180 on the material and sprint headlong in the opposite direction.  Where Bad Lieutenant was trying to tell a morality tale, Port of Call is interested in being a screwy dark comedy about a good Lieutenant who has pushed his addictions too far.

Watching Cage in this film reminded me of how underutilized his talent has been in the last few years.  Let’s run down the list – Kick-Ass, Next, Bangkok Dangerous, two National Treasure movies, Ghost Rider and so on.  The nervy, tightly coiled energy Cage that slowly unfurled or spectacularly exploded in films like Leaving Las Vegas and Matchstick Men seemed to have been replaced by this monotone creature that is condemned to star in films where the director has no idea how to utilize his style.  Herzog does not make this mistake at all.  He winds up Cage in strange situation after strange situation and films the outcome with such crazy invention that I could not help but marvel at how risky and rewarding this project was.  Herzog utilizes the post-Katrina landscape of New Orleans incredibly effectively, and the characters that Cage’s Lieutenant encounter are pushed just beyond the edge of believability into a wonderful zone of deranged comedy.

Lieutenant McDonagh (Cage) is a wickedly smart cop slowly unraveling and realizes it.  As the film opens he maintains a position of power and respect by playing crooked cops against opportunistic criminals against each other with one not knowing about deals with the other.  Then one day he’s called into a church where a number of children have been shot and killed execution style and suddenly no amount of drugs or sex can silence his conscience.  McDonagh is driven by something by some kind of madness to find who killed the children, and his dealings become known to his peers and connections.  They all want something from him now, and his destructive behavior does nothing to help his situation.

Cage thrusts himself headlong into the role by tackling each situation with a barely contained zest for self destruction.  Even the supporting cast is excellent, with a gloriously immoral Val Kilmer and strangely convincing call girl played by Eva Mendes.  But it's all Cage's show.  His drug intake climbs and as he becomes more desperate his grip on reality lessens more and more as his obsession grows getting him into more trouble.  As the days drag on he begins to lose sleep and hallucinates half of the participants in his conversations.  Watching Cage slowly become more disgusted and crazy by everyone around him, I couldn’t help but note that this is the best role that he’s had in over 10 years.  He doesn’t misstep once and what could have been a laughably terrible exercise in cheesy obsessives (all together now, “How did it get burned?”) turns into a performance that you cannot forget.

The whole package is incredibly energetic and unpredictable.  Herzog keeps the invention high and the pace swift while Cage gives these situations a nightmarishly hilarious human face.  Chances are Cage won’t have an opportunity to be this good again for a long time, so embrace this level of unhinged brilliance while you can before he gets cast in National Treasure 3.

DVD Special Features - A collection of photographs taken during production, "Making Of" featurette and an alternate trailer.

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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (2009)

Directed by Werner Herzog.
Written by William M. Finkelstein.
Starring Nicolas Cage.

Posted by Andrew

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