Welcome to LoveFilm Chronicles, a series in which I write about the Blu Rays that LoveFilm deign to send me every week. Like most unemployed people, I can’t afford to actually buy Blu Rays, which means we’re going to be digging deep into LoveFilm’s catalogue over the next few months. I’ve stacked up my Rental List as high as it will go with pretty much everything and anything I might be interested in, and left the rest up to the algorithm. Nothing left to do now but to watch what shows up.
After last week's trip into a tactile cinematic reality, this week's film couldn't be any more wildly different. What arrived in the post was Werner Herzog's 2009 film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a film that may or may not be a remake of the 1992 film Bad Lieutenant, but I'm not going to waste any time deciding whether it is or isn't. Werner Herzog certainly doesn't care.
What the film is, however, is fucking ridiculous. Somewhere between a bent-cop drama, a surrealist drug trip and a raucous, nihlistic comedy, it's a 122 minute experience which I'm delighted to have had and enjoyed thoroughly but would be hard pressed to say whether it was a good film. Such descriptions are meaningless here.
So with all that said, it's time to see our souls dance in the presence of Nic Cage, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad lieutenant.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
First things first: look at that poster. I mean, seriously, have you ever seen a worse poster? Look at Nic Cage's fuck off digitally inserted gun. Look at Eva Mendes' outfit. Look at Val Kilmer standing at the bottom shadowed in dust and light as if this film is a slick and sexy film here to portray the seductive villainy of the titular Bad Lieutenant.
It's perfect. I love it so much. I look at this poster, and I smile because I know there are a non-zero number of people who saw this image, and on this image alone either bought a ticket or purchased the DVD from a bargain bin as if it was any other thriller. And then I think of the experience they must have had as they realised just how wrong that they were. Some of them would be grumpy, but some would be overjoyed.
On the face of it, Port of call New Orleans is that film. It begins with Nicolas Cage's Terence McDonagh injuring himself in a moment of selflessness that flies directly in the face of his cruel dialogue, saving a man trapped in a cell during Hurricane Katrina. It ends with those two men meeting up once more, sharing something resembling a touching, bittersweet final moment. In between these two moments, Cage takes all the cocaine in the western hemisphere, has a lot of sad disaffected sex and repeatedly makes claims towards being the only sane man in this fucked up department (and by extension, world).
Maybe you could have taken this script and played it like the film I just described. Maybe in an alternate universe, this exists in that form and was immediately forgotten about. But whilst it wears the skin of this simple genre thriller, it is instead a trip into Cage's unhinged performance and Herzog's strange and surreal direction. Things such as stakes or drama are meaningless, and not once does it invest in them. It invests in Cage screaming, his gun raised at two old ladies in a nursing home, yelling at them for reasons long since forgotten. It invests in a bizarre philosophical conversation between Cage and a suspect sharing a joint. It invests in the dancing soul of a mob boss shot dead.
It's just stunning to behold such a certainty in the filmmaking. You're going to watch these things happen because these things are worth watching, you're not here to solve a puzzle, you're not here to write a thesis, you're here to watch. And laugh. And keep laughing. Because what else is there to do at something so full of energy, so bizarre, so joyful in its every scene? It knows its hilarious, it knows there's no way to make these events tragic or potent and doesn't want to try.
In some ways, it feels like a long con. It manages to blend a surreal total rejection of narrative whilst superficially adhering to a long-established narrative form. It's made with an artful craft but makes no attempt to build towards deeper meaning, instead focusing on the ridiculous joy of its frenetic surface. Almost as if the film is in fact made for the person who sees that poster, as if it's here to trick people into engaging with a wider approach to filmmaking without them even realising it.
And I love it for that. It's accessible and inaccessible. Smartly made and endlessly stupid. It cares so much yet so little, and it just wants you to care too. And not to analyze or consider, but to just feel something when Nicolas Cage yells at you, as it pauses for a shot from the imaginary iguana's perspective, as all conflicts are resolved in a single scene of increasingly ludicrous fortunate co-incidences.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is simply wonderful, and to say anymore would be redundant. I watched, I felt, and I laughed. I think it'd have a similar effect on you. Why should any more need to be said?