Retrospective: The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans (2010)


I love this movie but it’s a curious beast. It’s a Werner Herzog movie which means strangeness and innovative film making is to be expected, Likewise, a certain amount of inconsistency is also to be expected. The star actor is Nicolas Cage and for some people this is enough to put them off straight away, but for others he is the most magnificent actor when he is in the right movie. To put it mildly, when he’s bad he can be catastrophically bad that it’s an embarrassment. The list of bad Nicolas Cage movie is as long (if not longer) than the good ones he has done. This is one of the good ones.

This movie is confusingly named after another cop movie called Bad Lieutenant which caused a fight between Herzog and Abel Ferrara, both notoriously tricky directors. The only common theme consists of both sharing terrible cops who are aware of how awful they are. New Orleans is a black comedy and is in many ways very similar to Lord Of War. Both movies appeal to my love of black humour and Nicholas Cage’s wonderful acting presence. He is an actor who is never dull – a man who can’t do boring. He can do crap, but he is never dull.

The gist is of the movie is quite simple. Terence McDonagh (Cage) badly injures himself doing the right thing for the wrong reason after Hurricane Katrina. This causes a huge spiral of drug and alcohol abuse which means he is increasingly erratic. I won’t spoil what he does as that is the central appeal of the movie but it frequently cuts to show what Terence sees and that gives it such a distinctive feel along with the New Orleans setting. It is a fascinating place especially as the main focus of the movie is black-on-black crime between two different sorts of gangsters in a rough district in New Orleans.

The role of race is interesting in this movie as the police (all of which have played cops in other show) are overwhelmingly white apart from Cage’s boss. Almost everyone else is black and I am unsure if this is intentional but if so Herzog’s view of the New Orleans police force seems remarkably accurate following all the scandals after Hurricane Katrina. The corruption is quite startling, especially as by the end of the movie it is implied that all the cops are as bad as each other. This gives the general impression of a wretched place with Terrence just managing to stay on top of the various spinning plates, balancing the schemes and corruption.

The movie is well worth watching, especially if you don’t typically like Cage as Herzog’s direction is really out there (fish eye lenses, very odd camera angles and filters). It’s well worth the watch just to see the camera work. It has an entertaining, very simple police procedural plot in which all the other characters are secondary to Terence, hence completely ignoring of them despite all the cast doing a fine job. You come for Cage and Herzog and you’ll end up having rather a lot of fun.

Retrospective by Harry Riedl

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