Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner, Brad Dourif
Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: William M. Finkelstein
Cinematography: Peter Zeitlinger
Original Score: Mark Isham
Running Time: 122 Mins.
Nicolas Cage is an actor that seems to work on the basis that if a film is shoddy he will follow suit and coast along in an equally shoddy manner, witness Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man, Knowing, Next and 8mm, to name but a few, sleep walking his way through said films with that hang-dog expression that is all too befitting of the material. There was a time when Cage wasn’t happy to just pick up the pay cheque, a fact to which his Oscar would attest, and even in the big blockbusters he would perform with his wild eyes immersive take on a character taking what could have been a generic action film to the next level, Con Air, Face/Off and The Rock for starters, so what went wrong? It would seem Cage lost both his edge and passion for acting, either that or he just made the wrong choices?
Alas 2010 has seen Cage star in Kick-Ass and now Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, to give the film its full title, Kick-Ass was revelatory and Cage had immense fun in a minor part that pushed the boundaries of a father/daughter relationship and now here he takes it up a whole other level, in a performance that dominates the film and will remind everyone why he is such a good actor, Oscar might just come calling again. Taking its title, and very little else, from Abel Ferrara’s cult classic Cage is a cop not so much on the edge but rather having already well and truly jumped over the edge. Injured in the opening scene through an unlikely act of sympathy Cage’s character is promoted to Lieutenant and proceeds to spiral into a life of hard drug use on top of the prescription painkillers he has for his crippling back pain.
This set-up is one that from the off is recipe for a masterful character turn from the star and he delivers, in spades. The highlight’s and most memorable scenes are obviously going to be those glimpsed in the trailer, the wide-eyed, shouty, eccentricities of the man. However, as unlikely as it may sound, it is in the subtleties that the man becomes the character, conversing with the excellent Eva Mendes he manages to make McDonagh hugely likeable and emphatic, quite some feat considering the random acts he commits in abusing his job, roadside abuse of couples for drugs and sex, stealing from the evidence depot, and in one hilariously dark scene harassing elderly women in a retirement home.
It is the humour that is key to Bad Lieutenant for without this macabre vein of comedic direction and performance the film would make for both a hugely depressing experience and one that would likely garner little in the way of originality from the ultimately clichéd underlying plot which sees McDonagh “investigate” the slaughter of a family. Indeed time is spent of the police procedural line of things but very little so as to not over-ride the real story, that of McDonagh, all of which means aside from Mendes the support cast are very much that, support to Cage’s crazed antics, onlookers as confused as the audience, unaware as to which way an increasingly more desperate man will turn.
If there is another star however it is Herzog himself, bringing his ubiquitous style to every frame, the film reeks of his crazed genius and in Cage he seems to have found the perfect ruse. Though it is in the more obscure shots we see his most obscure streak shine through, long shots through the eyes of iguana’s and alligators are not commonplace in a Hollywood film unless it’s from Dreamwork’s animation studios! Shooting the film in the titular New Orleans adds an air of desperation and further enhances the hallucinogenic qualities, the bayou’s and flooded slums are desolate and uninviting places, much like McDonagh’s psyche, one enhancing the other and inviting the audience in with glee to experience a touch of the madness of genius’ at work!
Herzog and Cage, a match made in heaven? Each feeding off and injecting the other’s eccentricities with verve and genius, a film destined to reside as a cult classic alongside Abel Ferrara’s namesake, though Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans is both better and more original in its approach searing into your mind like a bad, but hugely enjoyable, trip.