Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: Nicolas Cage At His Cracked Out Finest
Nicolas Cage gets a bad rap from most critics. Ever since clips of Neil Labute’s ill-advised remake of The Wicker Man went viral, it’s been en vogue to call Nicolas Cage one of the worst big name actors around. Admittedly, sometimes his operatic style of acting can seem hammy if not harnessed correctly or put into the right vehicle. However, people forget that in films like Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation., Matchstick Men, and now Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Nicolas Cage gives some of the most daring, interesting, and deep performances that any marquee Hollywood star is capable of. Werner Herzog, king of the cracked out film, gets an epic performance from Cage in this film, making this remake an absolute must-see for any Cage hater needing reformation and for anyone who desires to see one of the most memorable films of 2009.
Sergeant Terrence McDonough (Nicolas Cage) is working in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina with his partner Stevie (Val Kilmer). Terrence is generally a good cop, whose heart is in the right place even if he’s rough around the edges. However, after injuring his back rescuing a prisoner from the flood waters, he becomes hooked to prescription pain pills. Which leads to marijuana. And cocaine. And crack. And heroin. Pretty soon, he’s demanding drug and sex favors in exchange for looking the other way regarding crimes. Unfortunately, his bad behavior catches up with him, and he puts himself and his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes) into a world of danger.
If you’re not familiar with the work of Werner Herzog, then this movie might come as even more of a shock to you. Herzog loves to examine people on the fringe of sanity, and he fills his films with interesting shots, angles, and iguanas. (Yes, iguanas.) He also loves to show Nicolas Cage’s face at work, leaving the camera lovingly pointed at Cage as he dives headfirst into a drug-fueled character’s delusions. To all of you who mock Nicolas Cage out there, remember when you first saw that clip from The Wicker Man, where he’s shouting at people, eyes bulging, body spastic? Here, he’s taken it to the next level, and Herzog has given him a vehicle appropriate to showcase it.
More importantly, Herzog has created a movie that feels relevant. At a time when there are boatloads of movies being made about the moral ambiguity of policemen, here is a movie that isn’t afraid to take it there. McDonough is fearless when high– he fixes sporting events, he smokes with people he’s about to arrest, he deals drugs, he hands out police insider information to criminals, and he uses the power of the law to have sex with random women under threat of arrest. The funny thing is, at one point, he was indeed a good cop. There are elements of a human heart which beat underneath these evil deeds. Just as New Orleans changed post-Katrina, so did McDonough. He was left broken, trying to recover by any means necessary.
If this movie sounds too dark, too dramatic, or too twisted for you, don’t be frightened off, as Herzog is also known for his black sense of humor. If the idea of Nicolas Cage, high on crack, cutting off an old woman’s circulation while calling her the most derogatory names in the book doesn’t sound funny when described to you in this review, it’s probably because you’re a human being of respectable taste. However, when it’s actually happening in front of you, with Cage chewing up the scenery like some saltwater taffy, you will find yourself laughing in shock in spite of whatever moral sensibilities you might have. There are several characters that act laughably insane when high in this film– they make bad choices, and they somehow get by, dodging the full consequence. That’s not just Herzog’s sense of irony; it’s life. Pretty soon, if justice is served, there will be a new set of Nicolas Cage clips on Youtube that make everyone laugh, from this film (in particular the showcase scene at the end where he smokes crack with Xzibit). Only this time, people won’t be laughing at him. They’ll be laughing out of admiration for one of the best performances of 2009.