Nicolas Cage – Terence McDonagh,
Eva Mendes – Frankie Donnenfeld
Release date: May 2010 (on general release now).
Whilst critically injured in the line of duty, semi crippled police detective Terence McDonagh (Cage) reverts to drug pilfering from crime scenes to substitute his reliance on pain killers. As McDonagh investigates the drug related killing of a black family in downtime New Orleans, the fine line between the moral crusading officer and his extra curriculum activities blur, spiralling downwards into a web of crime, gambling and prostitution rackets.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans is played out as both a very black comedy and a moral play. The role of a police detective gradually losing the plot as the distinction between what is morally right and wrong allows Cage to provide an unhinged performance which is quite simply his best in years and recalls some of his earlier off kilter roles.
The semi crippled character, complete with back pain, worsening hunch and basin style haircut could almost be a Richard III portrayal and the blurring of the lines and decent into deviant behaviour would not be out of place in a JG Ballard novel.
Eva Mendes provides solid support as the prostitute who is also the girlfriend of McDonagh, and their reliance on coke, other narcotics and the means to fund them provide an interesting insight to both characters, whilst being slightly reminiscent of Cage’s earlier work in Leaving Las Vegas (2000).
The stake out scene where McDonagh witnesses non existent iguanas singing along to Engelbert Humperdinck’s Please Release Me is surreal, funny, frightening and a stand out scene. It manages to emphasize the character’s deterioration and his struggle to maintain some kind of balance.
Herzog – paints a bleak picture of a city in repair and poverty after the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Albeit most of the film takes place in downtown police stations and deprived areas with swamp land encroaching on bleak concrete sky lines. The atmosphere serves well to question why criminal behaviour happens and also provides a backdrop to McDonagh’s darkening dilemmas.
Drug dealers, bookies and other misfits are all thrown into the mix as McDonagh’s dealings spiral out of control, the film develops into the caper driven plot successfully deployed over recent years by the Coen brothers. Indeed the semi redemption of the character towards the end of the film (complete with ironic twist) should not work in the real world or serious cinema, but it is so out of hand as to be something miraculous.
A very dark comedy which is a mind bender of a film, Bad Lieutenant is Cage’s best screen performance in years and is also an assured but provocative piece of film making from the ever good Herzog.