Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Has one esteemed modern director (Werner Herzog) improved on the work of another (Abel Ferrara)...?
Set in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a fairly lively mishmash that starts off intriguing but ends up a bit of a mess. In essence it’s a gritty cop drama: Nic Cage stars as Terrence McDonagh, the eponymous Bad Lieutenant, charged with solving the murders of a family of illegal immigrants. As ever, there’s a twist: McDonagh is a maverick, and he ain’t afraid to break the law to get results.
Christ on ice skates. When did we get to the point that it’s actually a bit of a twist not to have a maverick (or a rogue, or a loose canon) for a policeman hero? How about one who might or might not get results, all the time working within the strict moral and ethical code imposed on him by the limits of his profession? Just a thought, guys. Might not make good drama, but it’d make a goddamn change.
"There’s a dirty, grainy feeling to the camerawork that instantly recalls the golden days of cop drama, before everything went all CSI on us"
So-far, so-so. But why stop there when Bad Lieutenant can exploit so many more clichés? Hot-yet-vulnerable prostitute-cum-girlfriend? Check. Rocky relationship with father? Check. Angry boss who’ll have his badge if he doesn’t tow the line? Check checkity check-check-check.
Bad Lieutenant won’t win any awards for original storytelling. When you’re working in this kind of tried-and-tested milieu there needs to be something more, something engaging, to get an audience’s sympathy and engagement. Bad Lieutenant gets halfway there. From the opening it’s clear that this isn’t going to be a snazzy, polished ride through dizzying camerawork and high-octane car chases. There’s a dirty, grainy feeling to the camerawork that instantly recalls the golden days of cop drama, before everything went all CSI on us. The setting helps – New Orleans after the disastrous hurricane provides a rich backdrop, but here it’s mostly visual. There’s no aspect of social consciousness at work here, and after a while the environment becomes less relevant and visible. Frankly the movie could be set in any downturned, browbeaten American city.
"It’s not then, a sequel or a remake, but neither is it a franchise-starter"
Parallels are clear between this and the original Bad Lieutenant, directed by Abel Ferrara in 1993. There’s been a bit of a public slanging between Herzog and Ferrara about it, with the former insisting their similarities lie in the name alone. It reeks of BS, to be honest – even if Herzog hadn’t seen the original, scriptwriter William Finkelstein must have. In both, the main character spirals into drug addiction and is crippled by gambling debts, the latter of which is eventually resolved by a last ditch, against-all-chances bet. It’s not then, a sequel or a remake, but neither is it a franchise-starter.
Cage isn’t bad, though he can do much better (cf Kick-Ass). As he spirals out of control, his performance becomes increasingly more manic and just a little too Jim Carrey – the affectations of his weird Jimmy Stewart voice and bored-teenager pose (to tell us he’s addicted to smack) doesn’t help.
Eva Mendes is sadly underwhelming – she looks great, but her character’s so cardboard a gerbil could chew on it. There are no other performances of any note; all go through stock-character motions in a stock-character way, neither noticeably bad nor discernibly good. Ho-hum.
The plot gradually becomes murkier and murkier. There’s a promising section of middle ground around the middle of the film where you’re genuinely not sure which way Cage’s character will go, and it’s here that the film works as a brooding, mournful tale of degeneration, the last vestiges of a sad, tired cop still giving a shit. But Herzog insists on inserting a couple of totally surreal and unnecessary moments, mostly involving iguanas and ironic incidental music. It’s like he’s going for David Lynch but pulling off some undergraduate art-film trying really hard to be David Lynch. The film would be far better, and more unsettling, without them.
"We’re looking at no classic here"
The ending is also muddled – Cage’s character flits between addiction and promotion, literally from scene to scene. It leaves you unsatisfied, and where you could argue that the very last shot of the film is redemptive, it’s presented in such a disjointed and surreal fashion that you’re more likely to end up scratching your head than contemplating the light shining dimly in the crevice of your soul.
We’re looking at no classic here. Bad Lieutenant is too overblown for any highbrow crowd and a little too-clever-for-it’s-own-good if you just want some grimy noir police action. Even the more promising middle ground the film offers is uneven, and Bad Lieutenant ends up as a bumpy ride.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is released 21st May, cert 18, 122mins
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