The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans (2009)

(On DVD, February 2017) At its most basic level, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans shouldn’t be much more than a crooked-cop thriller. You know the drill: bad cop uses gun, authority, aggression to get drugs, sex and money. We’ve seen this film before. But there’s a few things that make this Bad Lieutenant stand apart. First up would be using post-Katrina New Orleans as a backdrop, with signs of catastrophe still corrupting the scenery. Second would be giving the film to veteran filmmaker Werner Herzog, and allowing him to run wild with shots of wildlife, oneiric sequences and just whatever passes his fancy. Capable actors in supporting roles also help; Eva Mendes hits strong dramatic notes as the protagonist’s girlfriend, while Jennifer Coolidge gets a striking dramatic turn. Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Fairuza Balk and Michael Shannon also all show up in minor roles. But Bad Lieutenant’s main asset remains Nicolas Cage, turning in a scenery-crunching performance as the unhinged titular cop, combining his dramatic chops with the grandiose operatic acting style he’s come famous for. Under Herzog’s direction and working from a decent script, Cage’s madness is harnessed to the needs of the film and seems even more remarkable as a result. (Witness the “His soul’s still dancing” sequence.) This is the kind of Cage performance that fans talk about when they celebrate his standing as an actor. I held off on seeing this film partially given my unfamiliarity about the original Bad Lieutenant, but it turns out that this is more a remake than a sequel, and it certainly stands alone. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans is a good example of how an actor with an oversize screen persona and a fearless director can elevate average material.

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