May 14th 2010
Review by Tristan Hanks
Despite sounding like a Grand Theft Auto type computer game, The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans, to give it its full title, is a highly enjoyable crime thriller directed by Werner Herzog. Nicolas Cage plays dirty cop Terence McDonagh who spends his days stealing drugs from civilians and extorting money from criminals, which goes to fund his large gambling addiction. Cage is on classic ‘crazy guy’ form and seems to relish the darkly comic scenes especially one in which he screams four letter abuse at an old lady in a care home. This shouldn’t be funny but it turns out to be one of the most hilarious exchanges in this highly amusing film. Eva Mendes is superb as his prostitute girlfriend and Val Kilmer plays his seedy sidekick with worrying accuracy. Rapper Xzibit also pops up as gangster Big Fate and puts in a very natural performance as do all of the supporting cast.
A lot has been said about director Werner Herzog’s decision to ‘remake’ Abel Ferrara’s cult classic starring Harvey Keitel but this is a very different beast to Ferrara’s dark fable. Herzog’s version is far more comic and surreal, with iguanas appearing to signifying Cage’s drug fuelled hallucinations. In Ferrara’s original the Bad Lieutenant has few redeeming features and Keitel plays him as quite unlikeable, Cage turns this on its head by switching from psychotic to charming in the blink of an eye. All the supposedly shocking scenes were met by laughter from the audience and it seems this was Herzog’s intention.
Another difference to the original is its setting. Using a post-Katrina New Orleans adds to the films surreal edge and makes it feel like a movie from an earlier time but it is Herzog’s direction that really excites. While this film never reaches the dizzy heights of his classic cinematic creations such as Aguirre: Wrath of God or Fitzcarraldo and for many this type of story seems very mainstream for Herzog, he brings an outsiders view to the tale with odd camera angles (especially one from the point of view of an alligator!) and lingering shots of buildings and pedestrians that may have been ignored by a bog standard US film maker. It is still an odd choice for him but appointing Cage as the star is a masterstroke.
His performance mirrors the Oscar winning role in Leaving Las Vegas and after his brilliant appearance in Kick Ass it seems that he has left the blockbusters behind in favour of the more indie style of film that he began his career with. He is a true movie star though and this is evident in the fact he steals every scene he is in and has created a character that stands alone from Keitel’s low key version. To be honest it matters very little whether you have seen the original or not, this film is both entertaining and exciting and worth viewing for Cage’s stellar performance alone.
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