Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans stars Nicolas Cage as the titular character, a drug-addicted, sexual fiend of a cop for whom crooked is too light of a word. As he investigates the murder of an immigrant family in New Orleans, he spirals deeper into his ever-worsening drug habit until that, his numerous gambling debts, and a variety of personal problems threaten to consume him.
Terrence McDonagh (Cage) was always a bit of scumbag, even before his drug problem, as we're shown in the early scenes of the movie. Though he isn't as bad as those who surround him. While searching a police station during Hurricane Katrina, him and his partner Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) find an inmate still locked in his cell despite the rising water levels. With the inmate hours away from a drowning death, McDonagh and his partner start placing bets on how long he'll last. McDonagh eventually does the right thing and rescues him, while Pruit tries to convince him to let the man die. When surrounded by people like this, how does McDonagh even stand a chance?
McDonagh injures his back during the rescue, for which he receives prescription painkillers, from which he graduates to other drugs. We're given a front row seat to the man's destruction, and what a ride it is. Nicholas Cage's performances can be very sporadic. He's shown definite moments of brilliance throughout his career, but he has a tendency to take too many straight man roles, in which he imposes certain restrictions on himself. But when he's given something to work with and allowed to let loose, as is the case here, he can truly shine. This is a fine actor in one of his finest roles.
Excuse me while I talk about Nicholas Cage some more. It seems fitting to emphasize his performance, since he is the Bad Lieutenant and the movie rests solely on his shoulders. It's fascinating to see how McDonagh handles stress. In situations where most people would have a nervous breakdown, things seem to slide off of his back. I could be wrong. Maybe things are getting to him, but if he anxious, he certainly isn't showing it. He has a solution to every predicament, though it's usually something illegal and will ultimately lead to another predicament, one that is usually more troublesome than the first. But as his troubles mount, he remains cool as a cucumber, thanks in a large part to the numerous substances he takes into his body.
But Cage didn't go in blind. Screenwriter William Finkelstein creates a terrifying world where shamelessly corrupt cops like
McDonagh are allowed to operate with little interference. It's doubtful that any of his colleagues, with the exception of maybe Pruit, know just how vile this man can be. But little references here and there tell us that they're at least partially aware.
Credit also goes to Werner Herzog's fearlessness in portraying the ugly side of New Orleans. The city is not shown in a flatteringlight. It isn't done in a disrespectful way. Every city has its dark half. But Herzog shows the seedy underbelly of The Big Easy with no interest in redeeming the city.
Some people might be turned off by just how unrelenting the movie can be, but to others, that will be its strongest point. Nicholas Cage is fantastic as a man obsessed with sex, drugs, and above all, self preservation. It's anyone's guess as to whether this would be as good of a movie with someone else in the lead role, but with Cage, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is terrific.
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