Let me begin with saying that I loved Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film “Bad Lieutenant” with Harvey Keitel on a role he went all in. It is the presentation as much as the story of the crooked cop and in Werner Herzog’s “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans”,the story resembles the original but is way out in the presentation. As much as the difference that it is two uniquely different films with characters getting rejuvenated and revamped in distant path from both directors. Having cleared that, let me say that this is one of the freakiest, craziest and wackiest performance Nicolas Cage has ever given in a film and it so happens with the touch of Werner Herzog.
This post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans is nothing but despair. In this despair lives Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) having prescribed Vicodine for his back pain. Six months later he is hooked up on codine and cocaine. He runs around with his shoulders tilted and is fluttering like a fly on a glass window. He is the best detective trusted by his Captain (Vondie Curtis-Hall) in leading a massacre of a family. And he is high on cocaine almost every waking hour and he is awake a lot.
Terrence is not alone living in a city with nothing but ruins, poverty and crime but is surrounded by it in his nearest and dearest. His girl friend is Frankie (Eva Mendes) and partner in crime for snorting and extorting her clients for cocaine. His step mother is a drunk (Jennifer Coolidge) and his dad (Tom Bower) is a recovering alcoholic. If this is insanity, he is on the run from so many things. He is betting against all the odds and his bookie is getting restless. This is a man living in hell and putting him through one.
Terrence is not alone a crooked cop but an unpredictable one. One minute he is arrests a convict single handedly by tactically going by neighbour’s back door and the other minute he is threatening a hot shot young couple making them to give him drugs and more than drugs from the girl. This is a bad eccentric man. In Abel Ferrara’s film, the cop was looking for some remote form of redemption in his hallucinations but Terrence is far beyond redemption and sees Iguanas creeping around his coffee table.
What can I say about the acting of Nicolas Cage in this film? He gives a performance like none other. If Harvey Keitel went far and beyond his ability to embrace the character of a wretched and disastrous soul, Cage invents new avenues to stick up his guy more ruthless and wickedly funny persona. Right from the mannerisms of walking and tensed up in situations like no other, Cage is mesmerizing. If any one could have pulled this, it is him. Some performance stay there and no one wonders what some other actors would have done. There are few of those like Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”, Daniel Day Lewis in “There will be Blood” and Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas”. The man adds one more to his collection.
I have watched couple of Werner Hezog’s films. The annoying “Stroszek” and the wonderful “Rescue Dawn”. Here he smacks the back of our heads and giggles. The movie by the end gets the audience into a cocaine trip and we are wondering whether the final minutes of happenings are real or crazy fantasy dream. That goes unsaid and left so appropriately.
There is a boggling question on the necessity of focusing a central character so corrupt, morally bankrupt and a dangerous threat to him and the surroundings. The film which so appears to be glorifying this act of continuous disruption and decadence is made a little amiable adding the beauty of the imagination. This kind of character is made bad and even in the final act of being cleansed by the social standards and by chance remains in the hell he built upon.
Nicolas Cage more so than his audacity to take up such a role makes a character completely hateful and yet entertaining in the process. We do not want to never ever be near the vicinity of Terrence but on screen his eccentricity is a form of cruel entertainment. Herzog perfectly captures those moments from the actor and provides a film of strange force acting upon its audience. “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans” is one of the best movies of 2009.