‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans’ Review: A Duet of Filmic Insanity

Posted in The Screening Room by - May 03, 2016

Sequel? Remake? Does it matter? The only connection to the 1992 Abel Ferrara is in name only. For what reasons? Probably marketing. All both movies have in common is a story with a corrupt, drug-addicted, gambling cop at the center of it all. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans follow Lieutenant Terrence McDonagh of the New Orleans police as he attempts to solve the murder of Senegalese immigrants. Along the way, his self-destructive behavior jeopardizes the investigation, his life and the life of those around him.

You mix Werner Herzog with Nicolas Cage, you know you’re bound to get something interesting. Cage plays McDonagh in a full-fledged insane mode that makes every scene exciting and fun. The problem is that sometimes it’s hard to tell if certain inconsistencies such as McDonagh’s accent are intentional or not. But Cage gives it his all. The most intriguing thing about McDonagh as a character is that despite his behavior we still find ourselves taking his side, if not rooting for him. This is because he knows what he’s doing and he knows how to make his flaws work in his favor. And out of his co-workers, he’s the most respectful, even of criminals. Which is saying a lot, given that McDonagh goes out of his way to humiliate and harass almost everyone that bumps into him? In a lot of ways, he’s evil, but he’s still the lesser of evils.

Herzog himself goes for broke in quite a few moments, throwing scenes shot in Iguana-cam (as I like to call it), for no real good reason but just because he can. But even these moments that may come off as self-indulgent are well used by Herzog to establish a perspective into McDonagh’s mind. They spice up moments that would otherwise come off as mundane, and McDonagh’s life is anything but that. At the same time, Herzog allows New Orleans to shine as its character in the film. Every scene, almost every shot offers a detail that gives away more of the city to form a full picture. There is an insane amount of attention to detail into the production and costume design that makes it look like a fully-lived in a world. We get to understand characters entirely by what they are wearing or because of their surroundings.

The movie does have problems. All of a sudden, it decides to go for narrative solutions that feel too coincidental. It’s a film that seems to take place in a different kind of reality to ours, but even so, these lucky breaks don’t come off as believable. This is a movie that uses luck and chance in favor or against its main character, almost too often. I can’t quite understand how it connects to the overall theme of the film. The ease with which destructive and self-destructive people can get away with what they do, often has more to do with the people around them, rather than pure luck. It would be fine if this movie played the chance card a few times, but it ends up becoming a constant and it undervalues the message.

But even with these flaws, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans remains an engaging film, that allows Herzog and Cage’s insanity collide and create a movie that lives up to the potential offered by their collaboration. It’s a fun way to spend two hours. It will shock you, it will disgust you, but it will also probably make you laugh, and make you glad you watched it.

Final Say: Watch It

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