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Notes from ningyo editions studio and gallery

Lobby Card #3: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

David Curcio

Lobby Card: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

A freakish, baffling anomaly of a film, Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans is Werner Herzog’s vague reimagining of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 masterpiece, albeit perhaps in name only (he denies having ever seen Ferrara’s version, although a few variations on certain scenes indicate he knew key scenes and plot points well enough).  Nicholas Cage , in a career-saving, dignity-restoring performance plays Terence McDonagh (Keitel’s character of the original- which is the subject of another Lobby Card – is unnamed), a cop who develops a Vicodin habit after harming his back as a result of an act of  valor during Hurricane Katrina.  Six months later we see him freaking out at the pharmacy waiting for his Vicodin refill, smoking heroin and crack, molesting a young club goer while he makes her boyfriend watch, carrying out interrogations with criminals (often politely and professionally!), and snorting coke off the back of his hand in his cruiser.  Assigned to a multiple homicide case and the protection of its soul witness, Terence staggers through the muggy city in the wake of the flood, his time divided between his job, his beautiful prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), his bookie, his father, extortionists, an array of low-lifes and the crack-dealing perpetrators of the crime under investigation.  Terence negotiates with them all.  His mien alternates from slow, slurred mumblings to manic shouting and laughing, from calm, professional police work to hysterical psychotic fits:

The film occasionally delves into the surreal, with hallucinatory shots of iguanas and alligators accompanied by a psychedelic clanging score and light-saturated visuals. Perhaps this is an allusion to the primitive “lizard brain” our protagonist increasingly functions on – single minded and unable to see the world from any perspective save his own.  Then we remember we are watching a Herzog film, and it seems to make sense: his work is brilliant enough to cut him endless slack for the occasional misfire.  Despite this divisive element of the film (everyone I’ve watched it with found these moments annoying as it tends to derail the narrative), the work stands as a bizarre alternate take on Ferarra’s doomed, desperate and ultimately irredeemable antihero whose days are clearly numbered.

ningyo prints

Nicholas Cage and Val Kilmer, with iguanas only Terrence can see.

With outstanding performances from a haggish but always great Jennifer Coolidge, the under-appreciated Shea Whigham, Faruza Balk at her sexiest (don’t get me going), and a brief appearance by the endlessly watchable, haunted Michael Shannon as a property room cop named, of all things, Mundt.

david curcio

verso of the image

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