Film Review

WERNER HERZOG’S BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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This is an unhinged, deranged movie, filled with scenes that are so oddball and offbeat and at times rather transgressive that you just have to stare in awe at the screen, wondering what it is exactly that you’re watching. Why they chose to recycle the Bad Lieutenant title for this movie will never make any sense to me, at least creatively. It had to have been done by one of the “money guys,” as there were a lot of them on this picture. The film should have simply been called Port of Call: New Orleans. That’s all that was necessary. Why bother evoking Abel Ferrara’s outlaw masterpiece when your film isn’t close to being a remake or sequel? It’s different in every way — atmosphere, plot, style, intent — the only thing they really share in common is that the lead character is a loose-cannon cop. Here, you get Nicolas Cage totally unleashed, smoking crack pipes and sticking guns in the faces of elderly and infirmed women, sexually pleasuring a female in the street in front of her boyfriend, and tending to a zonked-out Eva Mendes who looks like 10 tons of shit (on purpose) in this scuzzy yet incredibly stylish riff on genre material. And much of the zaniness has to be attributed to director Werner Herzog, here an amazingly inspired gun-for-hire choice, probably taking his paycheck and funding his next 10 small documentaries or personal projects that we’ll never hear about.

Seeing Herzog run through the conventions of the modern cop thriller was wonderful because he seemed happy to upend your expectations at various turns, and he afforded his ace production team the chance to run wild with distinct locations (Tony Corbett handled the gritty production design), snazzy photography (shot by Herzog’s regular collaborator Peter Zeitlinger), and a jazzy musical score (crafted by the always awesome Mark Isham). It’s a film that shouldn’t be taken 100% seriously (I see it as a black comedy more than anything else, like Ridley Scott’s underrated Hannibal in some respects), but because Herzog puts an emphasis on the strange (those iguanas!) while still having a firm grasp on the procedural aspects of the plot, the entire concoction becomes this bewildering brew of new school and old school, with Cage popping like a top for two hours, never relenting for a moment, in essence going for broke the entire damn film. The eclectic supporting cast includes Val Kilmer, Shea Whigham(!), Fairuza Balk, Brad Dourif, Jennifer Coolidge, Shawn Hatosy, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Tom Bower, Michael Shannon, and Xzibit. That the film was shot entirely on location in South Mississippi and Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina only upped the surreality factor. Despite not doing big box office (it was barely released), the film received hugely supportive reviews from critics (Ebert and Dargis were massive fans), and it will certainly find its rightful place amongst instant cult classics from the modern age. Herzog was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Shoot him again — his soul is still dancing POWER.

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