Monday, 31 May 2010

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Midway through a stakeout, when a wonderfully deranged Nicholas Cage starts hallucinating iguanas on his coffee table, it becomes clear that The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans is no ordinary neo-noir. Indeed, with idiosyncratic Bavarian oddball Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo) at the helm, it's not so much the work of an auteur as a brilliant hive-mind fusion, between an eccentric, brilliant director and his equally eccentric, fearless star.

It's a terrific return-to-form for Cage, who, having already got Kick Ass under his belt this year, deserves to caper like a loon all the way back to the top of the A-list. For an actor who has spent much of the past decade suffering po-faced ignominy in dreck like The Wicker Man, it’s wonderful to be reminded once again what he’s capable of. Much of this of course is down to the presence of Herzog, clearly relishing another bosom-buddy partnership with a brave, committed star after his often violent union with Klaus Kinski ended. Throughout, the two men are so clearly on the same page that the unique, existential essence which is bottled is quite remarkable.

Kudos must also go to the supporting players, who boldly underplay their equally spaced-out roles in order so the focus goes entirely to Cage, the ‘bad lieutenant’ of the title. On the beat in a post-Katrina New Orleans, Cage’s Terence McDonagh, against the advice of his partner (Val Kilmer), decides to take a chance on rescuing a prisoner from a flooded cell. However, this act of compassion gives way to an act of chance: McDonagh puts his back out, resulting in an addiction to prescription meds, something which subsequently interferes with his investigation into the murders of a Senegalese immigrant family, the relationship with his prostitute girlfriend, Frankie (Eva Mendes) and the credit rating with his bookie (Brad Dourif).

No mere synopsis though could possibly describe the unpredictability and philosophical weirdness of Herzog’s film; after all, this is a man who had dozens of extras drag a boat up a mountain. It’s a film that indescribably his, yet one that also collides brilliantly with noir conventions (Mark Isham’s jazzy, jangly score), becoming at once a familiar genre piece while a burgeoning existential crisis looms in the ether. Sound familiar? Throughout his career, Herzog has always grasped for that wavering glimpse of what drives a man; the allocation of these themes within the lovingly shot New Orleans locales makes Bad Lieutenant a fantastically odd experience, transcending the printed page to touch something indescribable, even spiritual... It also helps deflect the inevitable comparisons with Abel Ferrara’s Harvey Keitel starrer from 1992; this Bad Lieutenant belongs so utterly to its author that any such comparison is instantly redundant.

And, in Cage, he may likely have found his new Kinski. It’s a perfect outlet for the actor’s madness, where a hunched back and even his much reviled hairpiece join together beautifully in crafting one of the most memorable anti-heroes of recent cinema, one who thinks nothing of threatening little old ladies with a Magnum. As a self-described meditation on ‘the bliss of evil’, it’s unlikely we’ll see a more unique piece of mainstream cinema this year. Do fish have dreams?

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