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RAVINGS OF A FILM FANATIC: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Oh, Nicolas Cage! Where would we be without him? With his manic, electrifying intensity and predisposition to crazed outbursts, he’s given us some of the most amazing performances of the last few decades. Yet it’s often frustrating to think that the same man who brought us the fractured self-destructive Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas is also responsible for Dr Stanley Goodspeed and the historically-irresponsible Ben Gates, among others. (I omit Con Air simply because it’s such a joy to watch so many exalted figures chew so much scenery.)

Admittedly, it hasn’t been simply a stream of mundane action heroes since the Oscar – diamonds in the rough include his wonderful turn as the Kaufmans in Adaptation – but it’s easy to think that Cage has squandered a lot of that early promise. Except squandered isn’t really the word – more ignored: he’s just too busy having fun to care what anyone thinks.

So having been bored to tears by National Treasure (where Old Man Voight alone ought to have been enough to put me off) and repulsed by the thought of the Wicker Man remake (now with added bees), I was pretty much ready to give up on Nic Cage altogether. But then along came Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Consider my faith restored.

Opening in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Terence McDonagh (Cage) is injured rescuing a prisoner in danger of drowning, causing him to spend the rest of the film stalking about with hunched shoulders and a lifetime prescription to Vicodin. Six months pass and Terence has added a roster of illicit drugs to his over-the-counter habit.

From there, the plot revolves around Terence and his partner Chubby Val Kilmer’s investigation of the murders of a family of drug dealers. Along the way he shakes down twenty-somethings for drugs and sexual favours, gets into trouble with his bookie, looks after his alcoholic dad’s dog, upsets his coke-addled prostitute girlfriend’s clients, imbibes a laundry list of drugs, causes havoc in a nursing home, and hallucinates iguanas. And then, crucially, solves the case.

Herzog uses these extensive meanderings away from the plot and policework to highlight his disregard for the policier. He takes no interest in the post-The Wire desire to accurately portray the intricate process of solving crimes: he’s positively bored by it, as iguana-cam attests.

Instead, Herzog’s focus is squarely on Terence and his journey to the brink. The supporting cast are barely more than background for Cage to wave his gun at: Chubby Val Kilmer does little other than provide a kind of Alternative Terence – the man who didn’t save the prisoner and became a cleaner but somehow less effective cop – while Eva Mendes mostly just swans about in her knickers waiting for more drugs.

But Terence is such a fascinating character to behold that it’s hard to care about anyone else anyway. He skulks about with his Magnum on permanent display shoved into his waistband – more cowboy than cop – wielding it as the supreme emblem of his power, far more so than his badge. He steals drugs from the evidence room (we may actually learn more about the workings of the evidence room than the homicide department), gives away drug busts for cash, and plants evidence. Meanwhile, an obsession with a childhood spoon, which provides one of the film’s more touching moments, hints at an innocence just beneath the surface.

For all Terence’s faults, Herzog never lets us lose sight of the fact that he’s a good policeman – an exceptional one, even. Sure, he’s corrupt and he may be hallucinating and shrieking and staggering his way through the day, but he’s still a cop and that means a lot to him. And while he may have to break the law to get his man, he has enough of a sense of duty to maintain some limits on that front.

Naturally, if this were any standard-issue genre piece then in the end everything would turn out for the best, with everyone finding the requisite redemption. Herzog obliges, but his contempt for convention is such that it’s done as quickly as possible, tying up the loose ends and ironing everything out so neatly that the whole thing becomes almost laughably perfect. But the parting shot shows Terence back on the prowl for drugs and sex just as at the start. We’re given the happy ending we expect but it’s snatched away from us, as if underlining its own ridiculousness. In Herzog’s world, people don’t really change, no matter how good things get. Ultimately he doesn’t care about Terence’s redemption, just the compulsions driving him and the erratic behaviour that ensues.

Bad Lieutenant is a gloriously mad film, revelling in its craziness and howling wildly as it throws conventions out the window. If Cage had as much fun making this as it seems, hopefully we’ll see something just as spectacular, if not more so, from these two again soon.

Reviewed by Nicky Dean

Nick Cage has got up to all kinds of incredible shit in recent times, including calling an end to all organized crime, a feat so huge that Nick has decided he can tackle the issue with the line "I think at some point I decided to stop being an actor and start taking ac-tion". I also stumbled across this compilation of all kinds of over-the-top Nick Cage moments aptly titled "Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit". Enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. This was recommended to me, definitely have to watch it now