By JAMES MELVILLE
Something relevant! Ha. Classic misdirection.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call–New Orleans (2009):
Plot: After injuring his back when rescuing a convict (Nick Gomez) caught in a flood after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans detective Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) gets promoted to Lieutenant. Six months later, he’s addicted to any kind of drug that eases his constant back pain. As Terence works to solve a case involving the execution of five Senegalese immigrants, he also has to contend with his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), his father’s dog, a shy witness (Denzel Whitaker), rising gambling debts, two old women, and two different gangs. He also hallucinates iguanas.
Well, it’s much more pleasant than Abel Ferrara’s original film. There’s no nun rape, for starters. It’s a good day when there’s no nun rape. Fun fact, though: this movie doesn’t really have anything to do with the original Bad Lieutenant (1992). According to director Werner Herzog, it’s not a sequel, or even a remake. It’s just a different movie with some similar plot details, that the producers decided to associate with an NC-17 cult film that clearly didn’t belong in a franchise. Just thought I’d straighten that out.
It would be easy to just write Port of Call—New Orleans as another movie with Nicolas Cage being batshit insane. Yeah, Cage’s character in this movie is kinda crazy. Sure, he does the requisite Nic Cage freak outs. But there’s more to it than that. He does convey the nuances of his character. There’s intelligence behind his manic outbursts, a method to his madness. Yeah, I just quoted Shakespeare while defending Nicolas Cage. What’re you gonna do about it?
People associate Nic Cage with his bad movies. The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, stuff like that. But he’s a talented actor, and, like many talented actors, works better when paired with the right director. When I reviewed Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance earlier this semester, I noted that Neveldine/Taylor really knew how to capitalize on Cage Rage. With Port of Call, Cage is directed by Werner Herzog. That actually explains a lot about the weirdness and moments of bizarre spirituality.
When you think about it, the combination of Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage was inevitable. Or, if evitable, then at least something that absolutely needed to happen. Who better to utilize both Cage’s insanity and his talent than someone who is also insane and incredibly talented? Here, Cage is given an interesting character to play and a good script to work with.
Terence is, at his core, a good person. The film makes that clear in the first scene. When he and his partner (Val Kilmer) come across a convict left in a flooding prison to drown, his partner is fine with leaving the convict to drown. Terence isn’t. Throughout the film, he continues trying to do the right thing, although “right” and “wrong” are more than a little warped in his world. It doesn’t help that his body is constantly demanding that he give it more cocaine. Or oxycontin. Or weed. It’s a pretty long list.
There’s a scene where he threatens to cut off an old woman’s (Lauren Swinney) oxygen supply, because her caretaker (Irma P. Hall) is refusing to give up the location of a witness to the murders he’s investigating. The caretaker talks, and he doesn’t do any lasting damage. Terence comes close to that line—the one between Bad Lieutenant and Common Criminal—in what seems like most of the scenes, but he never crosses it. Even at his cracked out worst, there’s still a glimmer of Terence’s good self underneath.
It’d be tempting to paint Terence as some kind of post-modern anti-hero, but I don’t think his purpose is to make a statement about genre or dichotomies of law and crime. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m taking Film Theory this semester. The point of his character is that he’s human. Drugs, corruption, violence. Those things may overwhelm his body, and sometimes even his mind, but they never destroy his soul. That’s what makes his redemptive arc possible. Beneath all the murk, he’s a decent human being.
Decency means something else in Terence’s world. It’s more about trying to get through life without hurting innocent people than it is about following the law to the letter. It’s about giving some thought to the wives and children of the gangsters he’s after, or taking care of his alcoholic father’s dog so that his slightly less alcoholic step-mother can get a break.
I’m not telling you that you’ll like this movie. I’m asking you to give it a chance, and to keep an open mind. And don’t be a dick about it if you don’t like it. Yeah, that too. Thanks, disembodied voice. I got your back, man. Ha. More like the back of my mind. That was terrible.
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