Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009). Directed by Werner Herzog.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is actually quite good! It played to a packed house at the Ryerson Theatre and was met with enthusiastic applause. Nicolas Cage and Werner Herzog also delivered one of the best Q&A’s I’ve experienced at TIFF.

You can breathe a sigh of relief. This isn’t the train wreck that many thought it was going to be. The film is far from perfect but it is a return to form for Nicolas Cage. Before the screening Herzog said there is an old Bavarian saying that translates to “it’s time to turn the pig loose” and that is what he did with Nicolas Cage in this film.

This is not a remake of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. In Herzog’s film, a New Orleans homicide detective, Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) saves an inmate from drowning in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He injures his back during the rescue and is rewarded with a promotion to lieutenant.

To deal with the back pain he is prescribed Vicodin. Within a year he is addicted to pain killers and any other drugs he can get his hands on. When he’s not busy robbing kids and drug dealers he spends time with Frankie (Eva Mendes) his escort girlfriend.

There is a plot to this film which follows McDonagh’s investigation of a drug-related massacre. He knows that a local drug dealer named Big Fate (Xzibit) is responsible for the killings and he’s determined to take him down.

The other supporting cast consists of Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Fairuza Balk and Jennifer Coolidge. A pudgy looking Kilmer is hardly in the film which is a shame. This is clearly the Nicolas Cage show where his over the top antics and insanity provide one of the most entertaining performances of the year.

Matched with Herzog’s madness, one scene has McDonagh hallucinating that iguanas are on his coffee table. Herzog filmed the iguanas himself and while the scene feels oddly out of place it works perfectly in the context of the film.

My favourite scene involves McDonagh strong-arming an old woman in a long-term care facility. He rips her oxygen tubes out of her nose and pulls a gun to her head until she tells him what he needs to know. Trust me, you’ll laugh your face off when you see this scene.

Herzog noted that some of Cage’s scenes were improvised. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz and he wanted to tap into that spirit of improvisation. Letting Cage run loose also plays off the notion of post-Katrina chaos.

Herzog and Cage are the perfect pairing for this offbeat crime drama which is sure to become a cult classic. There is just enough weirdness in this film that it should please anyone that has grown weary of the Hollywood money machine of late.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

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Posted in 2009 TIFF at 11:46 PM