Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Directed by Werner Herzog
Edward R. Pressman Film / Millenium Films
By Rachel West
I love Nicolas Cage. If you’ve read my review of Knowing, you’ll remember that I am the one person who enjoyed Bangkok Dangerous, paid money to see Next, and will line up to see Kick-Ass in 2010. My love for Nicolas Cage doesn’t stem from his resume of work, because, let’s face it, he hasn’t been in a good movie since 2002’s Adaptation. I love Nicolas Cage because you never know what you’re going to get from him. He’s often over-the-top and crazy with his dead-eye gaze, spouting one liners in a halting manner, frequently while wielding a gun. Cage seems to perfect this persona in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans since it has all of that and more.
A remake in name only, Bad Lieutenant is a wild ride through the seedy underbelly of post-Katrina New Orleans, and Cage is our tour guide, steering us through crime, guns, drugs, and bad cops. Promoted to lieutenant for acts of bravery during Hurricane Katrina, Terrence (Cage) is seemingly a rather bad cop — he snorts cocaine on the job, steals from the seized inventory locker at the police station, takes sexual bribes, dates a prostitute, and deals drugs with thugs. All of this and yet you can’t help but like the guy and even empathize with him. As he and partner Stevie (Val Kilmer) investigate the drug related murders of a family of fresh immigrants, Terrence begins to spiral more deeply into his drug addiction. At a roadblock with suspects, Terrence begins to befriend them for financial gain to pay off his crippling gambling debts. Through a series of plot turns, Terrence has the chance to redeem himself and become one of the good guys, and the crux of the film hangs on his decision.
Director Werner Herzog has a reputation for being — to put it mildly — an eccentric. He once cooked and ate his shoe in public as the result of failing a challenge he put forth to director Errol Morris while they were working on competing projects on pet cemeteries. (Morris completed Gates of Heaven while Herzog never followed through with his plans.) The shooting of his film Aguirre Wrath of God is the stuff of legend, as it was rumored that Herzog forced his star Klaus Kinski to act at gunpoint. It is simply a myth, and in fact it was Kinski who shot at an extra on set, yet the myth continues to be used as an example of working with difficult directors. Herzog has been shot by a fan’s pellet gun, and also claimed to have rescued Joaquin Phoenix from a burning car wreck. To sum it up, Herzog is a wild card. For a Herzog film that is about derangement — a film that includes point-of-view shots from an alligator’s perspective, no less — I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to turn away. But throw out your initial reaction, for Herzog skillfully directs a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable film.
After debuting at the Venice Film Festival just prior to TIFF, the film garnered mixed reaction, and, according to New York Magazine, one explosive comment from original Bad Lieutenant director Abel Ferrara in which he expressed his distaste for the remake, saying “I wish these people [would] die in Hell. I hope they’re all in the same streetcar, and it blows up.” Herzog reportedly stated that he has no idea who Ferrara is and has never seen any of his films, including Bad Lieutenant. In spite of, or perhaps because of the controversy surrounding it, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans had three sold-out screenings during TIFF. And judging from audience reaction during and after the screenings, Bad Lieutenant is one film that you definitely have to see.
Aside from Cage, the film boats a solid ensemble cast of seemingly randomly selected actors: Val Kilmer, Fariuza Balk, Xzibit, Eva Mendes, Michael Shannon, Jennifer Coolidge, Brad Dourif, and Shawn Hatosy. As the titular bad lieutenant, Cage is as off-the-wall as one might hope for. He makes the character his own and once again, as in Leaving Las Vegas, makes an unlikable loser the one the audience roots for every step of the way. Thanks to an entertaining script by William Finkelstein, the movie is jam-packed with amazing one-liners including, “Shoot him again — his soul’s still dancing,” and “What are those fucking iguanas doing on my coffee table?” The film reads like it’s a joke, but the real joke is that the film is actually pretty good, and is destined to become a cult classic.
Cage and Herzog are the main draw here, and without either of their pedigrees the film would be your straight-to-video type of film. But together they are unstoppable in what was one of TIFF’s best films this year. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is definitely worth a watch before it becomes the stuff of cult legend, screened at midnight in packed art-house theatres to fans in costumes, quoting every insane line along with the film. It’s a wild ride, but one worth hanging on for.