Sometimes Nicolas Cage’s choice of films makes it difficult for us to remember just how good of an actor he is. Hey, a guy has to work, right? However, Cage’s performance in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans serves as a reminder that Cage is in fact worthy of holding the title of Academy Award winner.
Right up there with his performances in 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas and 2002’s Adaptation, Cage’s portrayal of Terrence McDonagh, the “bad lieutenant”, is something that should not be missed. In fact, it seems almost criminal that the film only had a limited release and was overlooked completely throughout awards season. It was easily one of the best of 2009. My full review of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans on DVD after the jump:
Although the film shares a similar title and storyline to the 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant, director Werner Herzog has always claimed that it is not a remake or a sequel. Any similarities are purely coincidence. Regardless, the film is a must see. It follows the downward spiral of the life of police detective, Terrence McDonagh (Cage) in post-Katrina New Orleans. After suffering a severe back injury while rescuing a drowning prisoner, McDonagh finds himself taking extreme measures to alleviate the increasing pain. He uses his status as a police lieutenant to score drugs from criminals, both small time and big time, while trying to solve the recent murder of an entire family of immigrants.
The role is a perfect one for Cage. In my opinion, Cage is at his best when he’s portraying characters with substance abuse problems (see: Leaving Las Vegas). His physical mannerisms as McDonagh’s back pain affects his mobility are impeccable. Cage brings the perfect amount of mania to the breakdown his character experiences. He draws you in from the first moment he’s on screen and takes you along–willingly–on his thrill ride through hell.
Excellent supporting performances help round out the film. Eva Mendes provides the perfect amount of sexuality (when doesn’t she?) as McDonagh’s prostitute girlfriend. Val Kilmer resurfaces as McDonagh’s equally crooked partner. Xzibit gives both Ludacris and P. Diddy a run for their money as the best rapper turned actor with his portrayal of Big Fate, a criminal that McDonagh falls into business with. However, one of the best performances comes from a barely recognizable, Jennifer Coolidge as McDonagh’s alcoholic stepmother. With this role, she broadens her acting range and proves she’s come a long way since “Stifler’s Mom” in American Pie.
The film is just over two hours long and worth every minute of your attention. The script by television veteran, William Finkelstein has just the right amount of drama and dark humor to keep the viewer thoroughly engrossed. Herzog’s unique arthouse style gives us glimpses of certain hallucinations that McDonagh experiences, which ultimately gives us more of a connection to his insanity. And veteran composer, Mark Isham, provides the haunting score that perfectly compliments the setting of a post-Katrina New Orleans and serves as a tribute to the music history of the famous city.
As far as the special features go, there isn’t too much to chop through on the disc. However, the “Making of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” featurette is fairly entertaining and worth checking out, if anything, just to see Val Kilmer do his impression of the German native Herzog. There’s also some interesting discussion about Herzog’s infatuation with iguanas, which is obvious with the 3 minute long iguana montage included in the film itself. Also, if you’ve ever wanted to see an alligator autopsy on the side of the road or the aftermath of a director being bit by an iguana on set, then this featurette is for you.
Finally, in the “Making of” portion of the special features on the DVD, Cage paraphrases an old Bill Murray quote from Tootsie to describe how he felt about making this movie. In what might be one of the worst Bill Murray impressions ever, Cage sums up the film perfectly “Someone came up to me and said the movie was great. I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to hear the movie was great. I want people to go look at the movie and say to themselves, ‘What the fuck was that?!'”
This is exactly what Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans does. It leaves you saying just that. The film takes you places you would never actually want to go in reality and is a crazy, satisfying, enjoyable mindfuck of a ride.