Herzog Comes Home to ‘Port’

All I knew of “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” before stepping in the theater was that it draws some elements from Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film “Bad Lieutenant.” Ferrara himself hoped that the people involved with this film “die in Hell.” I had a feeling that he wasn’t pleased with Nicolas Cage’s casting, and I couldn’t blame him — Cage is slowly becoming a hack. In all, I wasn’t interested.

However, the film, directed by Werner Herzog (“Aguirre, the Wrath of God”, “Rescue Dawn”), began to look promising— Cage actually had potential! Thus, I saw the film once I had the chance. “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” isn’t absolutely remarkable, but it is quite an experience.

Lieutenant Terrence McDonagh (Cage) is a New Orleans police investigator who, though dedicated to his job, is addicted to prescription pain medication because of his back pain. His life is a downward spiral from there. McDonagh takes drugs and sex as bribes, owes a large sum of money to his booker (Brad Dourif) and runs into trouble with “powerful” people when looking out for his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes). In the midst of all this, he and the police force attempt to find evidence that can put drug kingpin Big Fate (Xzibit) behind bars for the homicide of five Senegalese illegal immigrants.

“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” is by no means a remake of Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant.” Though they do share a few elements (namely the titular character and his descent into darkness), their execution and style are completely different.

After almost three years of bad acting in terrible films, Nicolas Cage delivers a deep and quirky performance as McDonagh. He completely embodies the character; instead of standing up straight he slightly hunches over to signify the struggle he has with his back pain. When McDonagh hits his breaking point by either drugs or people, Cage becomes an explosion of anger and craziness.

While the supporting cast is utterly overshadowed by Cage, some of them are able to turn in quality acting. Mendes impeccably expresses emotion and passion, and the intimate chemistry between her and Cage is convincing. Despite the poor acting often expected from rappers, Xzibit fits his role, effectively intimidating when “doing business,” but also manages to be charismatic and smooth in a scene where he visits the police station with his lawyer.

On the other hand, the rest of the supporting cast are not given enough screen time to really show off their abilities. One such actor is Val Kilmer (“Batman Returns”) as Pruit, a member of the police force. Surprisingly, Kilmer is only in the film for no more than five minutes, and is at most a bland, flat character. Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”) and Fairuza Balk (“American History X”) have intriguing cameos as a police evidence room supervisor and a traffic cop respectively, but are unfairly given a short amount of time.

Though the story has its share of golden moments — the interrogation scene at the retirement home is arresting (no pun intended) — the dialogue needs more work. Whenever Big Fate and his associates talk to each other, profanity coats their conversations. In addition, one of Frankie’s clients repeats the word “woah” every time he talks, and it is just plain annoying.

Post-Katrina New Orleans plays an integral part in the film. The city is dark and drab, and sunlight rarely shines. Colors are extremely toned down, symbolizing the loss of innocence for both the city and for its inhabitants.

This is the second Herzog film I’ve seen, and it tells me why the man is a darling in the film community. He’s not afraid to show how deep a man can descend into darkness. He moves the camera slowly, so we can soak in every detail. He also happens to have a bizarre style, as seen with his surreal shots of alligators and iguanas. His presentation is evocative, intelligent, and relentless.

“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” is probably not Herzog’s best film, but it is a solid piece of work. Though role expansion and better dialogue is necessary for the supporting cast, the film balances itself through Cage’s superb performance and Herzog’s steady and thoughtful direction.