Saturday, 21 May 2016

Bad Lieutenant

A vague remake of and/ or sequel to Abel Ferrara’s notorious 1992 movie, BAD LIEUTENANT - PORT OF CALL: NEW ORLEANS (2009) comes from Werner Herzog, an unlikely choice as the director for such a project. With levee systems broken, post–Katrina, policeman Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), recklessly saves a trapped inmate from his flooded prison cellblock, and the cop receives a promotion for bravery, but also suffers a severe back injury. This prompts his painkiller addiction to cope with daily New Orleans’ grind of trying to locate and build a strong case against local gangster Big Fate (rapper Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner, at least making an effort to abandon the daft moniker by admitting his real name here).

While supporting his girlfriend/ hooker, Frankie (Eva Mendes, also Cage’s co-star for Ghost Rider), Terry indulges in coked–up zany mania (and such craziness is the key appeal of Cage’s favoured screen persona, of course), runs up big debts to ‘understanding’ bookie Ned (Brad Dourif, remarkably, so restrained, he seems like someone else), flubs a homicide case by threatening the granny of a witness, and then he loses said witness in a Biloxi casino. Mainstream crime drama is cunningly dovetailed with episodic surrealism enhanced by the haunting score.
With alligator road-kill, weird iguanas, break-dancing souls, Terry’s work and home life unravels gradually, due to unspecified psych disorder, and it’s all greatly amusing as unhinged diversion into unfamiliar territory rather than story interruptions for theatrical hallucinations. Sometimes it’s funny to a blisteringly mischievous degree, especially when Cage is quite un-hesitantly wringing a dozen shades of lunacy from his quirky or mildly ‘pretentious’, and even unadventurously procedural, dialogue. (“I’ll kill all of you. To the break of dawn... To the break of dawn, baby.”) Meanwhile, at other times, the film’s cloggy aural swamp feels like some already too creepy semi-Cajun soundtrack that’s been slyly remixed by David Lynch.

It’s worth mentioning Val Kilmer (nowadays seemingly intent on carving a niche as a proper character actor, if only to escape from motley mediocre supporting roles), and grossly underappreciated Fairuza Balk (Humboldt County, American Perfekt, The Craft), both of whom turn in solid but un-showy performances here that contrast with and inevitably elevate Cage’s unstable drifting away from routinely horrid reality. For the ending, there are more ironic twists and darker tragedies (albeit tinged with hope) than expected, making for a sublime pay-off. This is very highly recommended, whether you’re a fan of Ferrara’s classic sleaze–fest original, or not.   



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