Monday, February 4, 2013

The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call - New Orleans

2009, Werner Herzog -- netflix

What a delightfully godawful, wonderfully crappy, exquisitely ramshackle-crafted piece of trash art Werner Herzog has so austerely fashioned.  I have to wonder what it was exactly that provoked Herzog, now mainly a documentarian, preferring to tell true stories than fictional one,to do this anti-sequel/anti-remake.  His direction here, his wandering camera eye, seems to be disconnected with the material at hand, as if he couldn't care more about what it was he was putting to screen.  His note to  Nicolas Cage seems to be "there's no such thing as too big" and "don't just chew on the scenery, make it a meal".

Cage has become quite renowned for going broad in his roles.  Restraints are for children in car seats.  Here he's as big, brassy, and affected as he ever was.  He's a drug-addled, pill-popping (yes, both) crooked cop with an equally crooked spine that causes him perpetual pain.  He shakes down rich college kids coming out of clubs for drugs and/or sexual favours and seems to have no conscience when it comes to his actions.  His girlfriend (Eva Mendes) is a high class call girl, and he frequently interrupts her business to shake down her clients.  Meanwhile, he's the lead investigator on a gang related retribution case in which an entire immigrant family was murdered, and the only person who seems less interested in going through the motions on it is the film's director. 

Herzog, Cage and writer William F. Finkelstein bounce the Bad Lieutenant from one messed up situation to another, whether it be looking after his recovering alcoholic father's dog to a failed attempt at a one night stand with a highway cop (a great, whacked-out cameo from Fairuza Balk), to an ill-advised road trip to an out-of-town casino with a teenaged key witness.  There's also a gang infiltration (where you're never sure if he's actually turned heel or if he's just playing everyone), his sombre connection with his alcoholic step-mother, and sticking a gun in an old lady's face at a retirement home.  And there's still more.  He's just a bad, messed up dude who does everything wrong and manages to come out of it like he's got a golden horseshoe stuck up his ass. 

The film takes a compounding pile of disparate elements to paint the picture of Cage's Bad Lieutenant, and in the end it comes together in a most unexpectedly coherent manner.  For all the insanity of Cage's performance on screen, it's all in service of the story... not necessarily the murder investigation, but the story of Terence McDonagh, an incredibly, INCREDIBLY, beyond belief complex man.  You're never really rooting for Terence to succeed... in fact, you're acutely aware that his failure would probably be better for everyone, and yet when he ultimately does succeed, and royally so, it's incredibly rewarding.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a solid 2 hours, which at once drags its heels but never stops moving forward.  It a feat of viewing, not in an insufferable way, but like a very exhausting high.  It's the type of film cinephiles are going to enjoy, because it's a film unlike any they've seen before.  It's also the type of film that's so disrespectful of genre and its conventions that it's daring the conventional film goer to like or even understand.  I loved it and hated it.  I admired it and was done with it after 20 minutes.  I'll probably watch it again and be even more conflicted about why I'm watching it again.