In Werner Herzog's new film Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans, Nicolas Cage plays a rogue detective who is as devoted to his job as he is to scoring drugs while playing fast and loose with the law. He wields his badge as often as he wields his gun in order to get his way. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he becomes a high-functioning addict who is a deeply intuitive, fearless detective reigning over the beautiful ruins of New Orleans with authority and abandon. Complicating his tumultuous life is the prostitute he loves (played by Eva Mendes) and together they descend into their own world marked by desire, compulsion, and conscience. The result is a singular masterpiece of filmmaking: equally sad and manically humorous.
Director Werner Herzog's career is a catalog of extremes, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
fits in nicely. Shot in post-Katrina New Orleans (presumably so that Herzog could take advantage of an atmosphere of decay and wreckage that no production design could match), Bad Lieutenant
stars Nicolas Cage as Terence McDonagh, a cop who injures his back and becomes addicted to drugs. But even before he became addicted he wasn't a nice guy, and afterward he's still capable of being honorable... or at least a smart cop. As his drug use and gambling spiral out of control, he doggedly pursues a drug dealer suspected of murdering a family. Anyone looking for a conventional thriller or police procedural will be baffled by Herzog's unpredictable direction--the camera will suddenly linger on an alligator by the side of the road, for example--as well as Cage's weird yet compelling performance, reminiscent of some of his early, off-putting acting in movies like Peggy Sue Got Married
and Vampire's Kiss
. He seems disconnected from the rest of the movie (arguably like his drug-ridden character is disconnected from reality), yet perfectly in sync with Herzog's off-kilter visions of iguanas and break-dancing souls. The tension that results between the realistic setting and Cage's meta-performance will make some viewers recoil, but others will have a unique and possibly wrenching experience. Featuring an astonishing supporting cast, including Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Brad Dourif, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, and a wealth of other recognizable faces. --Bret Fetzer