Saturday, July 30, 2011



Director: Werner Herzog
Screenplay: William Finkelstein
If there ever was a better example of how to show the old adage true that it’s not what the film is about but rather, how it’s about it….

Abel Ferrara’s 1992 masterpiece “Bad Lieutenant”, took place on the streets of New York and starred Harvey Keitel as a bad lieutenant. He wasn’t even given a name in the film. He did every drug he could, he pulled over women to sexually harass them, he fucked hookers, and gambled large amounts of money. In between, he tries to solve a crime, haphazardly involving the rape of a local nun. I met Abel Ferrara at CineVegas a few years ago. He’s an old man now, who still makes movies with the same passion as the other Little Italy born filmmaker of the streets, Martin Scorsese, although he lacks the ingenuity of his counterpart, he shows his characters as cold, cunning and often single-mindedly obsessed, if they’re of a mind at all. Ferrara, along with Keitel’s great performance, created a character who not only lacked a moral compass, he had completely abandoned such decision-making obstacles years ago, and was therefore capable of doing almost anything and on top of that, he was thoroughly unpredictable. 

Ferrara made him fatalistic. His films are as much a reflection of Ferrara as Herzog’s films are as much a reflection on him. It wasn’t enough for the insane, maniacal German to remake the movie, give it an almost unreasonably long title, and set the movie in a post-Katrina New Orleans where you’re just as likely to run into an alligator on the road as you are an accident. No, to see through his reimagining, he gets Nicolas Cage to play the role. Cage takes more chances and risks with roles than any other actor today. Now, he’s given a role which has written into it to have an unlimited amount of freedom for him to work, and he’s got the only director insane enough to let him do whatever he wants. 

Going in, you know this film will be interesting to watch. Herzog takes the story, expands on it greatly, and pulls a sly trick by surprising us with an ending, that’s probably completely wrong for the character and the story, but perfect for this dark dark comedy. (Yep, 2 darks) The movie is a fucking trip. After getting addicted to Vicodin after injuring his back and being promoted to Lt., Terence McDonagh (Cage) works on solving a mystery involving the execution deaths of an entire Senegalese family. A local kingpin is suspected (rapper Xzibit). In the meantime, he’s gambling on college football and losing badly. His hooker girlfriend Frankie, (Eva Mendes, surprisingly good) is one of his few solaces. She’s a coke-addict as well, and their mutual bad habits keep them together. He has an apparent soft spot for his former cop father, Pat (Tom Bower), although when pressed, he doesn’t even know what his beloved dog’s name is. He’s an alcoholic who’s trying AA again, much to the dismay of his beer drinking wife Genevieve (Jennifer Coolidge, also very good). It says something about a movie when it involves Val Kilmer as a fellow policeman and I could have easily forgot to mention him. He has a great exchange with Cage as they argue over whether there’s an iguana on Cage’s coffee table. There is one shown, and it like all the animals, including the dead ones, it's real, but whether it actually was there is anybody’s guess. 

Lt. McDonagh is so drugged up practically every second of the movie and does so much unbelievable crap that for all I know there wasn’t a single hallucination in the film. Well, they aren’t hallucinations to the person experiencing them, as Hunter S. Thompson would often point out. Although I’m attracted to a lot of different kinds of films, sometimes the films that grab me the most are the movies that go for broke, do everything balls out, warts and all, and despite my critical eye, I give credit as much for sheer guile as I do for storytelling ability. Herzog has made a career out of movies like that, so has Cage. Filmmakers like P.T. Anderson, David Lynch and Ken Russell have fascinated me in the same way. Their films can be massacred and criticized, but for all their indulgences, they are so rare, that it is a joyous relief to find films that don’t know the meaning of the word timid. This movie lost timidness when Herzog decided on the title. I rank it currently as the best film of the last decade. I doubt everyone will have my reaction, but I can guarantee this, you will be entertained. 

“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” I hate to repeat myself, but I have to say it again, it will be one helluva fucking trip.

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