During a panel discussion at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, Nicolas Cage was asked to respond to a description of his performance in this film as over-the-top. He replied, with a smile, that it seemed that casting him in this particular role under Werner Herzog’s direction meant “over-the-top” was a given.
But Cage isn’t overplaying his part: he’s fully inhabiting…
a character who is seriously out of control. That’s why watching Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is such a blast. In the movie’s opening scene Cage injures his back, which not only triggers his descent into drug addiction but affects his posture and body language. This is a highly physical performance, and it’s fascinating to observe.
William Finkelstein’s script wasn’t originally set in New Orleans, but when the production moved there (for the usual tax incentive reasons) director Herzog realized it perfectly suited a story about moral decay. He went out of his way to find odd, unusual, and extreme locations, and took full advantage of the city’s post-Katrina look. Aside from that, and some deliberately outlandish shots of iguanas, it’s hard to peg this as a Herzog film, but he certainly gets the most of the outrageous screenplay, which sees Cage devolve from a good cop to a kind of walking monster. The supporting cast is right there with him, including Eva Mendes, Fairuza Balk, Xzibit, Tom Bower, Shawn Hatosy, and Jennifer Coolidge, among others. (Val Kilmer is wasted as one of Cage’s fellow cops.)
If you’re expecting a police procedural, stay home and watch Law & Order. If you’re anticipating an indulgent Werner Herzog art film, you may be disappointed. But if you’re open to a cops-and-robbers yarn told in extremes, I think you’ll enjoy Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.