Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Well, I think I’ve recovered adequately from this film to say a few words about it. First, the story (of which there is little). Terence McDonagh is with his partner, Stevie (played by Val Kilmer), in a flooded building in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. The two are standing safely above water, looking down on a criminal trapped behind a barred window, water up to his neck. And the water is rising fast. Stevie is a bad cop. He wants to watch the criminal drown. What makes Stevie bad is that Terence is just a little better. When Terence sees the criminal pray for his life and bless himself, Terence dives into the water. Doing the right thing kills his back.

The next scene, Terence is a given a prescription for Vicodin–a powerfully addictive back pain medication (Chevy Chase, Jerry Lewis, Taylor Swift). It begins to go downhill from there. We soon see Terence snorting coke. We do not see, nor are we told, how Terence got from one stage of addiction to the next, he is now “bad.” And, for those familiar with Ferrara’s 1992 film, it only gets worse. Terence is on the case of a five-murder homicide. Once again, we are given no details. This ain’t The Wire, which painstakingly charts and maps every inch of east Baltimore, spots and identifies all interested parties. In Herzog’s film, there’s just a homicide–payback for dealing on some other guy’s territory (we find out who is responsible for the murders, of course, but we don’t really care). A material witness materializes (he literally pops through a window) and is put under Terence’s care. Terence takes the witness (a young boy) to a casino in Biloxi (oh, I guess Terence is a gambling addict) and loses him.

Herzog is rather clumsy with plot, but that’s one of the really fun things about this film. It does away with the annoying little details that audiences “need” in order to understand what the fuck is going on. Herzog, perhaps impatiently, wants things to get crazy. His camera doesn’t tell a technically coherent story. His camera is more like a microscope–you can’t see the big picture, you can’t see where the fuck you’re going. But what you do see, with frightening and even comic clarity, is crazy intensity. Terence is pissed off he’s lost his material witness. Terence never gets his material witness back, but he does find out where he went. How he manages to get the information (from an overprotective grandmother) is about the best goddamn thing in the film.

A few scenes fall flat, such as a scene (lifted from Ferarra’s film) where Terence stops and searches (illegally) a couple who have just emerged from a nightclub. He finds some drugs (not much) and proceeds to have a little fun at their expense. Since I’ve seen this before, it’s not at all as rough and ugly as it should be. When the bad lieutenant of Ferarra’s film pulls over two young women and–well, you remember. It’s ugly. Herzog goes more crazy than ugly (gator-cam? breakdancing? iguanas lip-synching to Engelbert Humperdinck?) Though I have to say, this is an ugly looking film. Maybe it was the print, but everything is washed-out. Dull green, gray, brown, with lots of natural light (what little there is) and soft focus.

Cage is terrific. I can’t quite understand the change in his delivery (about mid-way through, Terence is suddenly talking like Michael Corleone in Godfather, Part III), but his looniness is never phony or deliberate or forced. The much-talked-about iguana scene pretty much sums up Cage’s performance. He’s with the iguanas. He’s there. He gets it. And he sustains that feeling, that sense of the fucked-up, for the whole film.

mild spoiler: I’ll leave others to discuss the film’s ending–which isn’t nearly as wretched as Ferarra’s. But the final shot is good, and it more or less makes up for the 5 or so minutes that come before it. All in all, the film doesn’t make me sick, sad, or scared. It makes me wish I had a lucky crack pipe.

5 thoughts on “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

  1. “Cage is terrific.”

    Whoa now, little camper. Let’s not go and say things we’re going to regret later. Cage is having fun. I don’t know if Herzog is (except when filming lizards and alligators). I saw this in a theater-ful of folks who laughed it up and lapped it up mightily, and that added to my own enjoyment, but I wonder who was calling the shots here. The story itself was so boring, and so poorly shot overall (as you note), that it almost looks like it was abandoned at some point 4/5 of the way through the shoot.

    It didn’t help when I immediately sat through the 2nd bill of a good old New Beverly double feature of “My Son Son What have Ye Done.”

    Excellent poster aside, I had high(er) hopes for this one, what with the names of Lynch, Dafoe, Sevigny, Udo Kier and Michael Shannon attached. Alas, this one rapidly descended into tedium, with Willem Dafoe playing the world’s most boring cop.

    Herzog might yet pull out another winner. “Encounters at the End of the World” was damn near spectacular, and if not for Grizzly Man, it might be his best movie since Invincible.

    Cage acting insane isn’t enough to recommend this (hello, Wicker Man), and New Orleans is sorely wasted as a locale, and no one even bothered to give lines as if they lived in the city. Oh well. Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge and Eva Mendes were actually pretty good.

  2. Nah, Cage is terrific. I guess Mauer prefers more of a Sandra Bullock or Tom Hanks style of performance (don’t get me wrong, I loved them both in While You Were Sleepless II: Attack of the Clones).

  3. finally watched this tonight. holy shit. this was amazing. i am ready to forgive cage all his sins if he is willing to become herzog’s new kinski (and also continue peeing fire as ghost rider).

    mark was disappointed because the actors didn’t sound like they were from new orleans, and because the film didn’t make proper use of new orleans as a locale? what the hell, man? why stop there? no complaints about the fact that the shot from the gator’s point of view on the highway got the optics all wrong? i’ll be in l.a next week and am willing to come over and slap some sense into you.

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