RARA-AVIS: Bad Lieutenant (not about a book but film)

From: Steve Novak (Cinefrog@comcast.net)
Date: 20 Nov 2009

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    From the NYT today...


    There is also audio: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/11/13/movies/20091155-dargis-audioss

    A trailer: http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/453966/Bad-Lieutenant-Port-of-Call-New-Orlea ns/trailers

    And an interview of Herzog: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/09/17/movies/1247464653790/werner-herzog

    My admiration to the original 92 film was total...and I send this to Rara in light of some more recent debates around noir.

    Iıll be curious to hear comments of those who go to see it... Montois

    MOVIE REVIEW Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

    Lena Herzog/First Look Pictures Nicolas Cage plays the title character, and Eva Mendes is his girlfriend, in
    ³Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.² A New Orleans Mystery: A Cop So Bad, Heıs Good

      By A. O. SCOTT Published: November 20, 2009

    ³Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans² ‹ what an ungainly title for a movie. What does it mean? What kind of sense does it make? You might ask the same questions of the film itself, directed by Werner Herzog and related, by some equally puzzling movie-business genealogy, to another ³Bad Lieutenant,² Abel Ferraraıs 1992 tour of New York law-enforcement hell. Neither remake nor sequel, this ³Bad Lieutenant² is its own special fever-swamp of a movie, an anarchist film noir that seems, at times, almost as unhinged as its protagonist.

    Fueled by Nicolas Cageıs performance ‹ which requires adjectives as yet uncoined, typed with both the caps-lock key and the italics button engaged ‹ Mr. Herzogıs film is a pulpy, glorious mess. Its maniacal unpredictability is such a blast that it reminds you just how tidy and dull most crime thrillers are these days.

    The genre, once a repository of weirdness, wild emotion and sly cinematic invention, has recently devolved into a state of glum, routine sadism. The stories lurch toward phony and mechanical surprise endings, and the heroes tend to be glowering ciphers of righteous vengeance, exacting payback and muttering second-hand tough-guy catchphrases.

    Not Terence McDonagh, Mr. Cageıs New Orleans cop, who clings to an insane sense of professionalism even as his demons drive him around every bend in the Mississippi River. (Am I talking about the actor or the character? It may be a tribute to Mr. Cageıs genius that Iım not quite certain.) Over the years Mr. Cage has done his action-hero duty, from ³Con Air² to the
    ³National Treasure² movies, and he has often been more interesting than a lot of his peers, holding on to some of the idiosyncrasy that makes him worth watching even at his least inspired. Here, though, he is a jittery whirlwind of inventiveness, throwing his body and voice in every direction and keeping McDonagh, the movie and the audience in a delirious state of imbalance.

    Sometimes his loose-limbed shuffle and sibilant drawl suggest Jimmy Stewart as a crackhead. (Is there any other movie actor who can summon such a phrase to mind?) At other moments he breaks out in hip-hop non sequiturs, crowing:
    ³To the break of dawn! To the break of dawn!²

    He hallucinates iguanas, takes care of a dog and whispers sweet nothings to his call-girl girlfriend (Eva Mendes). He gambles. He steals. He shakes down college boys and gropes their dates. (Now Iım talking about the character, not the actor.)

    And ‹ if I may indulge a hip-hop non sequitur of my own ‹ itıs all good. What may seem like random, dissociated bursts of energy are in fact the brilliant syncopations of a player with a sure, if unorthodox, sense of rhythm.

    Iım still referring to Mr. Cage, but also to Mr. Herzog, who sets William Finkelsteinıs properly pulpy screenplay to his own strange music. (Thatıs a metaphor. The actual musical score, by Mark Isham, is serviceably atmospheric.)

    McDonaghıs ordeal begins during Hurricane Katrina, when he injures his back committing a reckless act of decency in the line of duty, freeing a prisoner from lockdown as the waters rise. For his pains McDonagh acquires a promotion and a drug habit, which combines with his gambling addiction and his fondness for the company of Frankie (Ms. Mendes) to make him a ripe target for an internal-affairs investigation.

    That happens, sort of, as does a murder investigation and a whole lot of other stuff, including McDonaghıs entanglement with a drug dealer evocatively named Big Fate (the rapper Xzibit). On the run and at loose ends McDonagh drops in on his dad and stepmom, who seem to be wandering around the set of a Tennessee Williams play without a script.

    Who needs one? ³Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans² ‹ why ³Port of Call²? what does that mean? ‹ is no masterpiece, but it is undoubtedly the work of a master. For nearly 40 years Mr. Herzog has pursued madness and unreason in various manifestations ‹ he found them, most reliably, in the person of Klaus Kinski ‹ and sometimes succumbed to their allure. Lately he has mellowed somewhat, examining driven, obsessive souls through a ruminative documentary lens and analyzing their passions with wry, sympathetic detachment.

    Terry McDonagh ‹ which may be to say Mr. Cage as well ‹ enters a realm where craziness and craft become one, but Mr. Herzog does not follow him all the way. There is discipline in ³Bad Lieutenant,² and a principled respect, similar to that shown in Mr. Herzogıs war movie ³Rescue Dawn,² for the pleasures and requirements of genre.

    The atmosphere is redolent with corruption and need, and nutty as the movie sometimes is, its brutality and confusion are never played for laughs. It has a warped sincerity, and an energy that keeps going and going. To the break of dawn!

    ³Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans² is rated R. It has swearing, drug use, sexual situations and violence that is, all things considered, fairly restrained

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