First Look Studios | USA | 121 mins
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is one of the most entertaining and engaging films of the year. It’s consistently hilarious, involving and features a career-shining performance from Nicolas Cage. This is a very loose remake that only contains a few similarities to Abel Ferrara’s equally effective 1992 film, so it would be too unfair to compare the two.
Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) was once a respected and medaled cop. That isn’t the case anymore. Once his back problem kicked in he turned to hard drugs to ease the pain. Now he’s either coked up all the time or all whacked out from his medicine. At the worst time possible he is given the responsibility of taking down a heavy drug dealer (Xzibit) who slaughtered an innocent family. McDonagh isn’t in particularly good shape with his coke problem, gambling problem, and the fact he also has to deal with some thugs who are messing with him and his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes).
The story more or less follows a downward spiral. As events move along Terrence is thrown into worse and worse situations. He’s an underdog that you’re not suppose to root for nor like. There’s nothing about it meant to make him likable, he can be charming at times, but he’s purely painted as a reck of a person who’s lost touch with his innocence. Despite his dirty cop nature he’s still committed to his job. Its obvious, by a specific choice at the end, that McDonagh is driven to taking down these killers. All the subplots have to do with his shortcomings as a person, they’re all weighing him down. When he succeeds at the end it can be interpreted as to whether or not he will actually change. The final moments of the film are meant to get this across. While last few minutes feel like a handful of alternate endings tied together, the message still carries impact.
Cage hasn’t delivered a performance of this caliber since Adaptation. If one was to take his character from Wild at Heart and multiple the eccentricity by a thousand it would equal McDonagh. While the actor is always hilarious, saddening and instantly involving in the film, McDonagh isn’t a good person and Cage never tries to spin it any other way. Too many films attempt to make their shady lead likable and fail miserably, not here. His series of questionable acts, which lead to his final triumph are portrayed perfectly. Cage never shows that McDonagh has truly learned a lesson by the end. This idea ultimately depends on one’s interpretation of the final scenes. The rest of the cast is filled with an impressive supportive cast, most notably Mendes and Val Kilmer. Mendes plays the coke-addicted girlfriend in a convincing fashion while the strange (and strangely great) Kilmer is sadly wasted as fellow cop Stevie Pruit.
The always impressing Werner Herzog presents his unique sense of style while also putting his own stamp on the noir genre. Herzog, in broader terms, has also made a parody of the dirty cop genre. He pokes fun at plenty of reoccurring cop movie conventions and they all work splendidly, especially a hilarious moment towards the end. All of these moments succeed in the end, since Herzog doesn’t always play it with a straight face. While underneath all the dark humor there is a sense of sadness, he never allows it to become a straightforward run-of-the-mill cop drama. Its all pure madness that he conveys perfectly through all the madness he presents.
With Cage’s bravo performance to Herzog’s splendid direction, almost every aspect works in the best way possible. While it is unfortunate that Kilmer is reduced to nothing more than a footnote and that the final moments feel episodic, they still do not detract from the work as a whole. This is one divisive dark comedy that’s one of the year’s best.