Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Directed by Werner Herzog
Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes,Val Kilmer and Xzibit
Goes well with: Bad Lieutenant, Leaving Las Vegas, Rescue Dawn
Werner Herzog is usually referred to in hushed, awed tones. He is the epitome of the German new wave film movement, but that description in no way does his career justice. There's no one who makes movies like he does, and there's no other filmmaker who has a body of work that's even vaguely similar.
He pulled a steamship over a waterfall without special effects in Fitzcarraldo. He made a star out of Klaus Kinski. He shocked the world with Grizzly Man and is the only feature-film maker to make movies on every single continent. He is an absolute heavyweight, and he's also personally charming and disarming. Above all else, Werner Herzog is, well, off-kilter. Yes, he's an off-kilter dude who makes off-kilter, fascinating movies, clearly enthralled and spellbound with the dark side of humanity and what makes it all tick.
Why else would anyone decide to make a film like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans? The movie stars Nicolas Cage as Terrence McDonagh, a drug-addled, adrenalin-soaked workaholic New Orleans cop with chronic pain, a huge gun that sticks out of his pants at all times, and a self-destructive streak that rivals the guy he played in Leaving Las Vegas.
“Of course, he has complete liberty to design the character,” Herzog tells CityBeat, talking about Cage. “Sometimes it was obvious. You have to turn the pig loose. He enjoyed it. He has great instincts. Everyone in this film is at his or her best. This is what I can achieve with actors. And they know it, and this is why I think many of them like to work with me.”
Injured during hurricane Katrina, McDonagh has a lot on his plate these days. There's the multiple homicide that implicates Big Fate (Xzibit), one of the town's major drug lords. There are the gangsters hired by his hooker girlfriend's (Eva Mendes) client to shake him down. And there's the money he owes his bookie (Brad Dourif). Oh, and he has to make sure his dad (Tom Bower) gets to his AA meetings and that there's someone available to look after his dog.
If that's not enough, there's the Big Easy itself. Reptiles crawl randomly into frames, and the entire film has the look and feel of decay. “Let's face it, New Orleans is one of the leading characters in the film,” Herzog says. “Something vile and debased is having its right place there. It all points to a very dark side. In a very real way, it's a new form of film noir. He's the one who solves the crime because he's so bad—a strange irony, and very dark humor in this.”
McDonagh is seriously out there, but what's even more out there is the fact that there's a new Bad Lieutenant movie. You can't even begin to talk about Port of Call New Orleans without wondering how it fits with Abel Ferrera's 1992 film Bad Lieutenant, which starred Harvey Kietel as a drug-addled, workaholic New York cop with a self-destructive streak. Is Herzog's new movie a remake? A sequel? Or completely unrelated?
Herzog, in his way, says that Ferrera's movie didn't enter into what he was doing at all. “Nothing came before. There was nothing before,” he says.
Still, Herzog acknowledges that, yes, there was a war of words in the press between the two directors after Ferrera bristled at having his definitive film, um, retouched.
“It's one of the moments where Abel Ferrara seems to be quite a character,” Herzog says. “I watched a baseball game once. I do not understand many of the rules of the game or why they run wildly around the bases this way, but at one moment the manager storms out from the bullpen and rushes the umpire and yells at his face from 10 inches away, steps back and kicks sand at him. Those are the glorious moments we hope for when we watch a game. We are in show business. If somebody storms out and kicks dust, then, fine, it's the stuff the media loves and the audience loves. And to a certain degree, I must say I enjoy it.”
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