' Cinema Romantico: Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans

Nicolas Cage has always seemed a little nutso, hasn't he? Sure, he's always been nutso in the films where he is supposed to be nutso, like the suicidal alcoholic in "Leaving Las Vegas" and the proprietor of a landslide of tics in "Matchstick Men", but even in the mainstream fare, like "National Treasure", you still sense he's not quite right, you still glimpse that deranged gleam in his eyes that makes you think, "Gee, this guy would steal the Declaration of Independence, wouldn't he?"

It's why him teaming up with director Werner Herzog, nutso in his own right, the filmmaker who once hauled an actual steamboat cross country to make a film about hauling an actual steamboat cross country and in his remake of the legendary vampire flick "Nosferatu" filmed on the original movie's locations for the "voodoo", is something that should have happened long ago. These two were made for each other, men with no time for small gestures.

"Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans" draws elements from the original 1993 film "Bad Lieutenant" which starred Harvey Keitel and was directed by Abel Ferrara but Herzog's film is not a remake. It is its own entity, opening in the Crescent City in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (There is a shot midway through of a storm descending on the city and Herzog holds it longer than most movies would ever consider and, man, it's breathtaking.) Cage's detective Terrence McDonagh and his partner Stevie (Val Kilmer, underused, but good when he's around) enter to a flooding jail cell where an inmate pleads for them to let him out from behind his bars as he is on the verge of drowning. Stevie wants no part of it. Terrence, after some back and forth with the convict, hops in the water and....oops! Injures his back. Bad. If you have never seen a Herzog film this will give you a quick primer on his attitudes: Despite those ancient claims often no good comes from helping your fellow man.

Terrence, just made lieutenant, with immense back pain, is prescribed vicodin and quickly becomes addicted, though he has a few other addiction problems too. Cocaine and crack (the first scene in which Cage scores crack is so twisted and so disturbing and so funny it will either make you leave the theater or applaud) and gambling. His girlfriend (Eva Mendes) is a high priced hooker and sometimes Terrence uses his position with the law to abscond with the drugs possessed by her clients. He enlists the unreluctant help of a poor guy (Michael Shannon) in a police evidence room to get him anything he might need.

But everything I have just mentioned is merely the proverbial tip of the iceberg as Terrence's descent into the investigation of a vicious murder becomes less and less about its outcome and more and more about something far murkier and delusionary. There are colorful side characters aplenty and twists that you don't see coming because Herzog pays so much attention to random details and images that you never really think about where the story happens to be going. It even seemed that Cage's voice slowly transformed into James Cagney-like accent from an old gangster pic. Is this the medication? Insanity? Herzog's suggestion? Cage's own choice?

Is there a point to all these wild goings-on? I suspect one could take the POV shot of the alligator (because of course there is a POV shot of an alligator) and say "Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans" is meant to show the animals looking at the humans and thinking the same thing humans think when they look at the animals. You could perhaps find the meaning in the imaginary (or are they?) iguanas that keep turning up in Cage's field of vision and wonder if all of life is an illusion. But all that is far too easy for Herzog. If you asked Herzog he would probably give you the most rambling and inconclusive yet poetic answer possible. Which, in a way, describes his new movie.

Rambling and inconclusive yet poetic, it is an extraordinary journey into what we'll term "The Cage Madness".

1 comment:

Rory Larry said...

Herzog was responsible for two of the best documentaries I have ever seen. Grizzly Man and what I would probably say was my favorite film of last year (after a year of contemplating) Encounters at the End of the World. But I'm positive nothing could surpass the insanity of Klaus Kinski (in general, but in particular in Aguirre, Wrath of God). Still, I will see this movie.