It’s really difficult to call Nicolas Cage’s character in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans anything other than a “functional addict.” Here is a man who manages to get through the day thanks to several doses of cocaine, vicodin, and marijuana, among other drugs. He’s also a Lieutenant in the police squad in post-Katrina New Orleans, meaning there are a lot of problems to sort out. How he manages to get away with this is something that you have to see to believe.
Cage plays Terrence McDonagh, the addict, whose goal in the film is to solve a murder. Or, rather, find a way to convict the murderer. He’s got a pretty good idea of who the killer is. Finding enough evidence to convict him or her is the main task he is faced with. However, apart from that, he also has to deal with all of the drugs, the crowd that is typically associated with drugs, and some imaginary iguanas, which become the film’s mascot and perhaps most memorable moment. Seriously, the iguanas, and one scene featuring them in various colors and increasingly odd camera angles, are enough to justify watching the movie.
The same is true of Nicolas Cage’s truly spectacular performance. It’s not easy to portray someone constantly on drugs, especially when they’re mixed and matched like they’re various colors and flavors of M&Ms. Here is an actor who can rarely be accused of being subdued, but if you want to see what it’s like to see his over-the-top style work in a serious and compelling drama, this is the film that you need to see. He brings with him the insanity that works perfectly for the character.
Those of you paying attention and know your film history will be aware that another movie called Bad Lieutenant was released in the early 1990s, starring Harvey Heitel in the titular role. The only major similarity, apart from the title, between this film and that one is that there is indeed a bad Lieutenant. The setting, plot, secondary characters, filming style — it’s all different. They each stand on their own merits, and there’s no reason to ignore this one because of Abel Ferrara’s earlier film.
I don’t want to ruin any of the moments in this film, save for the iguanas, because I’ve already mentioned them and it’s not really that important to spoil their involvement. The rest of the absurd situations will not be spoiled here. You simply need to see some of the crazy things that McDonagh gets into during the two hours that Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans is on the screen. You might not believe me if I simply listed them, anyway, as some of this stuff is too crazy to imagine.
However, that’s exactly what makes the film so compelling. The director is Werner Herzog, who has to bring William Finkelstein’s script, somehow, to the screen. He has to show things that most people would never even consider showing on-screen, or even in the mind. This is a film about a man so lost in his addiction, yet so determined to do right, that the two forces have to oppose one another at some point. And when they do come into conflict, it’s masterful just how the film sorts it all out.
The film looks like few others out there, too, as it has been crafted in a way where we go through, presumably, similar situations and sensations to what happens to McDonagh. The cinematography is all over the place, the editing switches between being rapid and giving a take the time to linger, even the color palette varies depending on what’s going on at the time. Herzog is mostly successful at making us feel like we’re experiencing all of the drugs that the main character puts himself through.
If Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans has a major issue, it’s that it can’t quite sustain that type of energy for its entire running time, and at times it drags. Perhaps that was intentional, as the points when it’s not terribly interesting are also the times when McDonagh might only be on one drugs, not four, but some tighter editing at times might have been beneficial if that wasn’t the case. It’s not always the type of the film you can really like or enjoy, either, which I know will be a turn-off for some viewers.
Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes are also reunited after the awful Ghost Rider, in which they showed they had no chemistry together. Both actors were bad in that film, while this time around only Mendes isn’t very good. She’s marginally better, but she has no range. considering the character she’s portraying is supposed to push past the “hooker with a heart of gold” cliché, but can’t because Mendes isn’t a strong enough talent, she is a detriment to the finished product.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans is not a pleasant or fun experience, but it certainly is unique, which is something you rarely get with the movies. Thanks to a glorious performance from Nicolas Cage, and a director who manages to take that over-the-top performance and insert it into a serious drama, this is a movie absolutely worth watching, even if it’s just to say you did. Did I enjoy this film? No, but I appreciated it and I definitely think it’s one that you should check out.