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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans(2009)
A rogue detective is as devoted to his job as he is at 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. Together they descend into their own world marked by desire, compulsion, and conscience.
For more about Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and the Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Blu-ray release, see Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on April 8, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Werner Herzog
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Fairuza Balk, Val Kilmer, Xzibit, Jennifer Coolidge
» See full cast & crew
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Blu-ray Review
“Shoot him again, his soul’s still dancing…”
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, April 8, 2010
Werner Herzog spent a large portion of his life in the pursuit of documentary excellence. Directing his first film at the age of 20, Herzog became well-known for the philosophical nature of his productions, and a life that can best be described as eccentric. Though his career spans nearly five decades, he never quite achieved mainstream fame until the release of his 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man. In the following two years, he dabbled in the Hollywood landscape with a big-budget retelling of his prior documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly (many of you know the Hollywood version as Rescue Dawn), and visited an eclectic mix of Antarctic residents for his 2007 documentary Encounters at the End of the World. Taking into account Herzog's longstanding fascination with non-fiction storytelling, I was rather surprised when it was announced he planned to helm a fictional tale of an unsavory cop working in post-Katrina New Orleans. Beyond that, I was dumbfounded by the idea of such a talented director taking the reins on a remake/sequel of the 1992 classic Bad Lieutenant. Thankfully, the remake/sequel rumors eventually turned out to be little more than a loose marketing ploy, but I still had my doubts about Herzog's involvement in a film with little room for philosophical musings. Now that I've witnessed the end result, I'm convinced this is one of Herzog's finest works.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Terence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) is awarded a bittersweet promotion to Lieutenant within his local precinct, for a seemingly heroic action which left him crippled by back pain. Prowling the streets day and night, McDonagh's riddled with internal conflict over his increasing addiction to any drug he can get his hands on, his duty to uphold the law, a misguided relationship with a high-class prostitute (Eva Mendes), and a laundry list of other life stressors. In the background of his continuous downward spiral, McDonagh's been assigned to a case involving the ritualistic killing of five victims caught in a local drug war. Knowing he has little evidence to go on, the boundary-pushing Lieutenant embarks on a precarious manhunt that takes him even further down his cocaine-laden rabbit hole, as he steps head first into the land of compromise and self-indulgence.
The title Bad Lieutenant is a fairly tame label for a film of this nature. A more appropriate title could have been Did He Really Just Do That?, or 99 Activities Unbecoming of a Cop. In all seriousness, this could very well be the most demented portrayal of a compromised detective ever committed to the screen. During a brisk two hour runtime, we witness McDonagh steal drugs, blackmail his way into sexual favors, turn a blind eye to murder, contract with drug dealers, tamper with evidence, con customers of his prostitute girlfriend, and snort more cocaine than I ever imagined humanly possible. Add in a scene where he demands information from an old, oxygen-dependant woman by removing the supply hose from her nose, and you're starting to gain a better understanding of what this film is truly about. All of these activities may sound a bit off-putting to anyone with a functional moral compass, but what's strange about Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is how engaging the main character actually is. No matter how much you despise his questionable actions, you'll still find yourself rooting for him time and time again. We wouldn't often associate the traits of a self-serving, junkie cop as a good foundational basis for a film, but the way the character is balanced by his actions on both sides of the moral spectrum create a multi-dimensional personality that remains fascinating until the closing credits roll.
Despite my overall enjoyment of the film, there are two subtle problems that quickly surfaced. First, I found the pacing and direction of the film a bit uneven or disjointed at times. Herzog is the type of director who uses a demanding filming method (if you've seen some of the interviews in his documentaries, you'll know what I mean), but it also creates scenarios where he continues a sequence long after overstaying its welcome. The end result lead to a slight lack of polish at times, where it appears things weren't fully thought out before the camera started rolling. A good example of this is the scene toward the end where Val Kilmer's character suddenly turns into a corrupt cop, revealing information he's known about McDonagh for a long time. For another example, look at the interactions between McDonagh and his father's girlfriend (played by Jennifer Coolidge), who refuses to watch the dog while his father's at AA meetings. For some reason the family scenes just didn't seem to fit within the confines of the story, and seem extremely out of place by the time you make it to the "celebration" in the final ten minutes of the film. Speaking of the conclusion, I can appreciate the angle screenwriter William M. Finkelstein aimed for, but his search for deeper meaning in the "can't change a man" vibe felt a bit too forced for my liking. It certainly jives with the madness of the rest of the film, but in light of the profound change that's suddenly introduced in the closing minutes, it seemed a bit clichéd, and negatively affected the lasting impact of the core film.
No review of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans would be complete without recognizing the performance by Nicholas Cage, who seemed to finally find that spark we've been waiting for. There was a time when I thought Cage had the potential to set Hollywood on fire with his acting abilities. However, immediately after winning the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas, he began a crusade to become the next big action star. Don't get me wrong, I love The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off just as much as the next guy, but anyone willing to take a peek at his filmography will likely shake a fist at what could have been. Now that you've put your hand down and taken a deep breath, I'm pleased to report this turn as McDonagh could mark a new beginning for Cage. His Quasimodo swagger coupled with "Jimmy Stewart on drugs" line delivery creates a character that seems both disgusting and pitiful at the same time. As the layers are slowly peeled away throughout the course of the film, we're exposed to an ever-evolving character that Cage seems entirely in tune with. A lesser actor would have struggled with the intensity and loss of sanity incorporated into the story, but not Mr. Cage.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 20Mbps), Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans sports an image quality that's just a hair above average. Fine object detail varies from scene to scene, with some shots appearing incredibly crisp while others seem a touch on the soft side. Likewise, the coloring of the picture appears a bit sporadic, with many scenes drenched in a particular flavor dominating the palette on the walls. For instance, if the characters are eating in a restaurant with yellow walls, facial tones and other independent features within the environment will take on a yellowish hue. One of the cringe-worthy settings is located within a neon-drenched sports bar where McDonagh meets with his bookie. In those scenes, you'll witness a touch of color bleeding in the bright pink shading around characters outlines. The only other time I noticed this issue was in the closing shot of the film where the aquarium dominates the background. The deep blue of the water is allowed to leach into the outline of the two silhouettes sitting in the foreground, and creates a somewhat off-putting quality. Regarding black levels, I was a little disappointed by the lack of depth within some of the interior or nighttime shots, which made it difficult for contrast to differentiate between shade variance in shadowy segments of the image. Likewise, several outdoor shots during the daytime appear a bit too bright, as if a degree of enhancement or boosting was applied to the image. On the positive side, I never noticed instances of edge enhancement or artifacts, and although there's a suspicious lack of grain throughout the duration of the film, I found the clarity of most shots sufficient to rule out the overuse of DNR scrubbing.
I'm aware my assessment of the video quality might sound overly harsh, so I'd encourage you to keep in mind my final assessment of 3.5/5. There are certainly aspects of the visuals that prevent the film from reaching eye-popping bliss, but given the grungy nature of the production, I'd wager this is at least partly intentional in the stylistic trappings of the cinematography.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The primary track on the disc is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. I can't say I was blown away by the subtle nuances within the mix, but it still demonstrates adequate strength in several elements to warrant a relatively high score. We all know this isn't a big budget Die Hard imposter, so going into the film with expectations of an action-heavy mix will certainly leave you wanting more. What we're given instead is a film that's heavy on dialog, occasionally punctuated by rousing musical interludes, and environmental effects that consistently remind us we're in the heart of New Orleans. Fortunately, every element is handled with appropriate care, creating a listening experience that remains clean, crisp, and well-balanced. I never detected a hint of distortion, hiss, or drop-out, and aside from struggling to make out the tight-lipped dialog from Cage, the volume always remained in check. Surround use is sparse at times, consisting almost solely of environmental effects and the musical score, but when a certain unnamed character pops off or winds up waist-deep in a gun battle, the full soundstage comes alive with the precision we'd expect. In the end, the audio experience is everything I hoped it would be, and should please most fans of the film.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Photography Book: Photos by Lena Herzog (1080p, 8:55 min): As the title suggests, this video-only photo collection presents snapshots of various scenes from the film, and actors posing for the camera. Some of the images are highly artistic, but I doubt most fans will revisit this supplement.
The Making of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 31:10 min): The lack of polish behind this documentary may turn away some viewers, but if you're able to move past the production values, there's plenty of value in this glimpse of Herzog's day-to-day shooting schedule. Some of the better moments include Kilmer's imitation of Herzog, explanations of various techniques used on each set, and a somewhat gory take on the road-kill alligator scene.
Rounding out the special features, we have a standard definition trailer for the film, and several previews for other releases from First Look Studios.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is similar to riding a roller coaster without safety straps. Something in the back of your head says you shouldn't be enjoying the trip, and recommends praying for it to end as soon as possible; yet every time the cart dips or somersaults you can't help but feel a rush of excitement and adrenaline course through your veins. I fully understand if there are viewers out there that despise this film with every fiber of their being, and I can appreciate those sentiments if you experience a strong aversion to depravity. However, if you're able to enjoy a solid 2-hour character study with excellent acting, creative cinematography, and lasting appeal, this should earn a deserving spot in your collection.
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