Words: Saam Das
DVD: 'Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans' (Release: 27 September 2010)
Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Xzibit
Abel Ferrara made a 1992 film, starring Harvey Keitel, called 'Bad Lieutenant'. Upon hearing about this new Werner Herzog version, Ferrara didn't exactly lend his support: "I wish these people die in Hell. I hope they're all in the same streetcar, and it blows up." Glad to see film makers are still staying classy. Herzog's response to Ferrara's bile was somewhat bizarre: "I have no idea who he is", while also denying that his film was a remake of Ferrara's.
Ultimately though, both films share similarities - their central characters are "bad lieutenants", struggling to balance their police work and personal life with spiralling drug problems. Unfortunately, I haven't seen Ferrara's version, so for me, 'Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans' is Werner Herzog's take on Season One of 'The Wire'. While 'The Wire' focussed on the drug culture of Baltimore, Herzog relocates the setting to New Orleans.
The film begins in the direct aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with Nicolas Cage (the "bad lieutenant") and his partner Val Kilmer discovering a prisoner about to drown in his cell. They ponder the need to save him from drowning, with Kilmer's character suggesting they simply find out the time of death from the autopsy. This is the first appearance of the questionable moral compass of some of the film's central characters. Cage decides to rescue the prisoner but in the process, injures his back and over the next six months develops an addiction to painkillers and a recreational drug habit.
The film then charts Cage's difficulties with protecting his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) and managing his gambling debts, alongside working on a murder case involved a local drug lord (Xzibit). Yet it seems almost incidental to describe the plot of this film, when it contains moments which are quite simply, batshit insane. And not just in terms of Nicolas Cage's hilarious mannerisms either, although his drug induced eccentricities are a joy to watch. No, there are moral quandaries too.
One scene sees Cage accost a young couple, abusing his powers as a police officer to sample their drugs. Moreover, he ends up having sex with the girl while forcing her partner to watch at gunpoint. This pales in comparison to Cage's attempts to extract information for the case he's working on, which culminate in the assault of an old aged pensioner in a care home. To call such scenes insane seems a disservice to their challenging brilliance.
The drug addled madness also materialises in comedic moments too, with Cage forcing a henchmen to shoot a prone intruder again as he claims that "his soul is still dancing". Herzog obliges by visually representing Cage's hallucinations with a breakdancer. In terms of pure befuddlement however, nothing quite matches the occasional hallucinatory appearance of iguanas - a wonderful touch from Herzog.
'Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans' tends toward a "happy" ending but with such disarray throughout the film, we can never be sure quite how the characters' lives would have panned out. Perhaps we will see a sequel with Val Kilmer as the central character, possibly the only person in the film more morally corrupt than Cage. If Herzog returned to the helm, I could see a sequel being as equally outrageous and fascinating as 'Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans'.
Shame about the UK DVD artwork though. It looks absolutely awful.
'Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans' is also available now on Blu-ray in the UK and the US.