Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

c. David Grim (taken 8/28/10)

If you've ever watched Abel Ferrara's 1992 feature "Bad Lieutenant", you'd likely agree that a re-make would be silly, and a sequel gratuitous. If you came across a DVD case advertising "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" that featured Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes on the cover, there's a good chance you'd probably assume that it was unnecessary hackery... and continue your search for some foreign art house or indie title. Or alternatively you might assume that an action-packed night with such a cast met your requirements for thoughtless entertainment. You'd be wrong to base your actions on any of these preconceptions.

Against all proper expectations, one of the world's greatest living film directors made "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans". Werner Herzog has made some of the most challenging and high-concept films of the last half-century. Indeed he has built a reputation employing the most intense actors (such as the infamous Klaus Kinski), and achieving the most incredible cinematic feats (such as building an apparatus to carry a steamship over a tropical mountain). Why would he muss about with the legend of a B-movie cult hit centered around the hammy performance of a barely-contained Harvey Keitel? I guess the best answer to that is that old chestnut- Because He Can!

Sure, Herzog does concern himself with matters of great import. Man vs. nature, obsession, delusions of grandeur, and something called "ecstatic truth". But that doesn't mean that he can't do it with an American cast and setting (including such luminaries as Brad Dourif, Michael Shannon, Val Kilmer, and Shea Whigham) . In fact, the post-Katrina landscape makes sense as a Herzog locale. And the increasingly disconnected Cage seems an obvious choice for a Herzog "protagonist". Ultimately the story of a cop becoming increasingly unhinged and singlemindedly pursuing his goals without concern for conventional morality or methods is absolutely within the purview of this distinguished auteur. Just have a look at his earlier films for the proper context.

But what is surprising about Herzog's depiction of a man unravelling is the eventual outcome. As modern day movie-watchers we have been trained to expect a specific set of consequences when a character's decisions become more and more erratic. Herzog has never shied away from thwarting expectations. The awful beauty of his cinematic choices delivers exactly what we might seek when we choose to watch one of his films. Yet we are never on firm ground when we assume that we can anticipate the destination. That's what makes viewing a Herzog product so damned scintillating. And this one is certainly no exception.


  1. "...and I'm still trying to remain courteuous. I'm beginning to think that that's getting in the way of my being effective!"


  2. That quote certainly gives me pause. I'm glad you watched this with me.

  3. and then it went too far...?
    "maybe you should drop dead you selfish cu#t...you're the fu@king reason this country is going down the drain!!"