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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Nicolas Cage in Werner Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT

A snake slithers through the flood waters that followed Hurricane Katrina. Two cops are checking out a row of flooded jail cells. They find someone trapped inside and bet on how long he has before he drowns. Then, with a joke about his expensive underwear, Officer Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) jumps into the filthy water to save the prisoner's life. His heroism earns him a medal, a promotion, and a permanently damaged back.
The opening scene of Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans sets the tone for a fascinatingly complex film and its intoxicating cross-currents of cynicism, tragedy, and absurdity. Now a lieutenant with a limp and constant pain that he generously self-medicates with any drug he can get his hands on, McDonagh is put on the case of a particularly ugly gangland execution.

McDonagh juggles his police work -- he's good at it, no doubt -- with the procurement of cocaine from the prop room and his prostitute girlfriend's (Eva Mendes) clients. He's more interested in opiates than sex with Fairuza Balk, extorts crack from late-night club hoppers, and doesn't hesitate to deprive nursing home residents of oxygen to solicit answers. Clearly, this is a role tailor-made for the bug-eyed energy of Nicolas Cage.

Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendez in Werner Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT

"Go for it, losers," is how Herzog taunted critics to compare his film with the other movie called Bad Lieutenant. OK then: in Abel Ferrara's 1992 film (which Herzog claims to have never seen), Harvey Keitel plays a cop with an equally confused moral compass, a vicious, damaged abuser of power who finally finds a hint of forgiveness. The spin that Herzog and Cage, with a script by William M. Finkelstein, put on the tale is less macho, less Catholic, more unpredictable, and way more unhinged.

While Keitel's Lieutenant terrorized a hard-boiled New York City, Cage's incarnation haunts post-Katrina New Orleans. Shot in a gritty style far from the touristy, sun-dappled gaze of, say, the 1986 Dennis Quaid vehicle The Big Easy, the city here appears every bit as ravaged and heedless as McDonagh himself. The film's trailer highlights hilarious hijinx, but what surprised me most about Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans were the whiplash turns from outrageousness to deeply felt pain and despair. All the madcap drug binges and mysterious reptiles can't disguise the very real wounds suffered under these ominous, storm-swept skies.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Xzibit, Fairuza Balk
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Produced by: Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short
Running Time: 2 hrs. 1 min.
Release Date: November 20th, 2009 (NY/LA)
Distributors: First Look Pictures
Now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.
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