With Nicolas Cage’s widely publicized financial troubles and recent string of disappointing films, every moved he made in 2009 was watched even more closely than usual. This was both good and bad (for him, anyway—I’m sure the People reading public enjoyed it all) and the one brief glimpse of good from him in 2009 was Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Acclaimed by critics for not only the strength of the story but also the caliber of the acting from all involved, Bad Lieutenant may have been a modern-day remake (of sorts, at least—director Werner Herzog claims its neither a remake or a sequel) of a Harvey Keitel film from the ‘90s but Cage made the part all his own with the over exaggerated and on-edge acting style that he portrays so well.
In Werner Herzog’s new film Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans, Nicolas Cage plays a rogue detective who is as devoted to his job as he is to scoring drugs while playing fast and loose with the law. He wields his badge as often as he wields his gun in order to get his way. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he becomes a high-functioning addict who is a deeply intuitive, fearless detective reigning over the beautiful ruins of New Orleans with authority and abandon. Complicating his tumultuous life is the prostitute he loves (played by Eva Mendes) and together they descend into their own world marked by desire, compulsion, and conscience. The result is a singular masterpiece of filmmaking: equally sad and manically humorous.
There’s a certain unsettling feeling you get while watching this film. The camera work is unique, so much so that you can really feel the mugginess and seemingly complete lack of A/C that New Orleans has. Everything is muggy and sweaty looking and once Cage’s character starts hitting the drugs hard, the film starts taking on even crazier vibes. It’s definitely a visual bit of stimulation and it may be one of the craziest looking films I’ve seen since Natural Born Killers–it is just absolutely loaded with ridiculous bits with iguanas and Cage’s character going off the deep end that Cage is either just that good of an actor or he didn’t have to do much acting to channel this role. He’s almost disturbingly good at times in the role as nothing ever feels amiss—the other actors and actresses in the film are all fine actors too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like Cage doesn’t even have to try here. Everything he spews out of this characters mouth is just of a certain ridiculous level that it all just sounds and matches up perfectly with his visual appearance.
There’s a nice little mystery wrapped up in the film too, with Cage’s character getting slowly wrapped up in it more and more himself, but it’s the inclusion of other actors like Xzibit and Val Kilmer that help keep this film grounded (yes I just said Xzibit helped keep something grounded). Mendes too does a solid job as Cage’s anchor in the film and there’s definitely a bit more chemistry between the two here then they had in Ghost Rider, so that relationship was believable as well. A nice thing about the two characters that Mendes and Cage play is that they truly and genuinely seem to become closer by the end of the movie—not just because of the obvious elements that the film wraps itself up with, but through the moments they share together at Cage’s character’s original home that he grew up in. It’s kind of a nice little understated set of sequences in the film; sure, most of what you’re going to hear about in this film is going to do with Cage going nutso and seeing those crazy iguanas, but there is a lot more to this film than that.
The film has quite a few twists and turns that keep the story from becoming stale over the two hour run time, which is good because there are moments when it could very easily become quite trite. It’s also a very vulgar film, from Cage’s character especially, so don’t be too surprised if you’re shocked the beginning of the film. In fact it’s really the first half-hour that’s the hardest to get through in terms of the obscenities—there’s a lot to test your threshold in those moments, but if you stick with it then it really does become quite a rewarding film. The characters may not exhibit any kind of new or unseen behavior that we haven’t gleaned before from similar films, but the films unique combination of dead-serious drama (which is almost depressing at times), the film is also quite light on its toes with humor as well. Dark humor, of course, but still humor nonetheless; it may not be a film you watch over and over again, but the performances really do stand out and the story itself is well-crafted. It’s definitely a Highly Recommended film no matter which way you cut it and probably one of the biggest surprises of 2009.
First Look Pictures releases the film on a standard single disc Blu-ray release in an Elite Blu-ray case. There’s not a whole lot about the package that stands out—a front cover that is rather muted in color pallets with just the floating heads of Cage and Mendes and little else. The back is where all of the quotes are including a shot of Cage freaking out (with iguanas!), so it’s actually quite a change from front to back. Still you have to commend First Look for not marring up the original theatrical one sheet with quotes…although it probably would’ve made more sense from a financial standpoint to do so.
The film arrives in an AVC encoded transfer and overall it looks quite good. The only sequences that stand out as a bit murky are the random bits where the camera focuses on something else—such as the iguana or crocodile scene. It’s in these moments that the footage gets incredibly grainy and almost blurry—intentional, I’m sure, but it’s worth noting since those are really the only truly “ugly” moments in the film. It’s a pretty pristine picture aside from that, although it’s rather muted in color tones (most are earthly tones on top of that), so there’s not a lot to “jump” off the screen…but it still looks good.
Audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, but since this film is mostly about the dialogue you won’t find much in the surrounds. There are moments of gun usage that booms around in the surrounds and LFE, but other than that it’s pretty light on its feet. Bar chatter may peek its head out in one of the surrounding channels, but for the most part this soundtrack is front and center. Not a bad thing, mind you, as it’s all crystal clear.
Extras are sadly quite limited, but include:
Digital Photography Book
Making Of (31:10, SD)
The making-of is pretty brief but it really gives us our only aural glance into the making of the film—the photobook is a nice addition, but it only goes about as far into the production as photos you’d find on IMDb would. Considering how small this film was anyway I’m not surprised we don’t have a lot of extras, but it’s still moderately disappointing.
Overall I think your enjoyment of this film will really hinge on whether or not you like Cage as an actor. He truly dominates this film and if you can get into his character and those around him, then you will probably find this to be one of the better films you’ve seen in recent years. As is this is a Recommended Blu, as even though the extras are disappointing the film is good enough to own. It really holds up on repeat viewings too, which is nice because I didn’t think it would.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on April 6th.