Being a Bad Lieutenant brings out the good in Nic Cage…
Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com
Director: Werner Herzog
Notable Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Xzibit
There are times when good movies go bad because the actors involved in the project don’t suit the roles just right. It’s usually during the film when you notice this and after it’s done you realize that if they’d just gone with someone else then the movie would’ve worked so much better. While Nicolas Cage has been ridiculed and placed on the wrong side of that argument for a handful of his recent roles, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans sees him land on the side where he’s one of the few actors who could pull this role off. He makes the movie stronger than it might have been without him.
Bad Lieutenant is a movie about a cop who does all he can to uphold the greater good, while breaking the law in about as many ways as one could think in order to do it. It begins during the flooding of New Orleans, where Terence McDonagh (Cage) and his partner Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) are two of the last remaining officers at their precinct tying up a few loose ends while everyone else has evacuated the area. While ‘cleaning out’ a fellow officer’s locker they find that a prisoner has been left behind in a cell that is quickly filling with water. The two officers banter back and forth, placing bets on how long it’ll take the prisoner to drown, all while the prisoner is begging them to help save his life. Eventually the banter ceases, and we understand that these two cops aren’t fully by the book, though while Pruit says to leave the prisoner for someone else to find. McDonagh shows he’s got good in his heart, as he decides to jump into the watery prison to help the man escape. McDonagh jumps over a railing, goes under water, and we fade to black.
Cut to half a year later and we find that jumping into the flooded jail caused McDonagh to injure his back so severely that he must take prescription medication the remainder of his life in order to cope with the pain, and even then the pills aren’t guaranteed to take it away. This character development leads to what the movie focuses on, more so than the actual investigation of the execution of five immigrants that McDonagh is put in charge of thanks to his promotion to lieutenant for his acts of bravery that cause all his problems to begin with.
While the investigation is always an ongoing theme, the movie is heavily character driven, and focuses on McDonagh’s drug problems. They lead him to do desperate things in order to get his fix. These desperate measures land him in some pretty hot water that gets hotter throughout the film due to his choices. As the film goes on we’re left to wonder if he’s even got his head on straight, let alone if he’s fit to wear a badge or even if he cares about his job anymore. Is it the fix that keeps him there, or is it something else?
All these questions are asked throughout, and at certain points the answers seem like they’re quite clear by just how many wrong turns one man can make in life. McDonagh goes through most of the movie high as a kite, and this allows Cage to let loose with his stronger acting points, and just…well, let loose. He’s got such a strong persona on the screen in this type of situation that the viewer can’t help but believe he is that character, and he is blitzed out of his mind, and that’s exactly what this film needed to make it work.
The movie is well shot, and director Werner Herzog does a great job with his cast to make you as the viewer forget who they are, and see them as only the characters they’re portraying. The scenes where McDonagh is high and hallucinating are done well, as he sees things that other characters can’t see, and reacts accordingly. It seems a bit over the top, though it’s controlled, and done so only a few times in order to show just how whacked out Cage’s character actually is while he’s doing his job; so it works well.
The movie won’t be for everyone though, as it isn’t always moving at the fastest pace. The focus on character over the actual solving of the case, even though the two are mixed together, may turn off some. Chances are though you’ll know if this is your type of movie before you go and see it and whether or not you’ll enjoy it is just a matter of if you’re looking for a pure cat and mouse cop caper, over a more stretched out character piece. Bad Lieutenant is the latter, and shines in ways that it wouldn’t have thanks to Cage carrying the film on all levels.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: drugs, Eva Mendes, Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer