The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans ★★★

I can buy into this series being sort of anthological, but I don't know if there's much to the topic of Navy commander corruption. No, this is still about a crooked cop who is swept up in criminal activity, chronic drug abuse and dangerous gambling addiction... but it's somehow still not a remake or sequel. Werner Herzog is so about doing his own thing that he's relocating the Lieutenant from New York, giving him a name (Terence McDonagh), and showing that dangerous humanitarian efforts during Katrina is the cause for his addictions. I'll take Herzog's word that he hadn't even seen the original if he thinks there's supposed to be a point when the title character is sympathetic, not that there is a point when this gent seeks redemption. As the lead tries to crack down on a drug dealer who may have slain an entire family, he's trying to skim his way to feeding his habits, paying off his gambling debts and keeping his coked-up hooker girlfriend cozy. This may not be a sequel to Abel Ferrara's film of almost the same name, but it sounds like Nicolas Cage is returning for "Leaving New Orleans". Whatever in the world this is, it's as simultaneously compelling and distancing as "Bad Lieutenant", but for different reasons.

Director Werner Herzog encounters his usual competency issues of fickle style, dodgy shooting and cutting, and dubious acting, all sporting a probably and tricky purposes. Perhaps these surreally slight mishaps play into Herzog's ethereal air, anchored by abstract scene structuring and overwhelming music, and occasionally taken to extremes through bizarre gimmicks that break what offbeat resonance there is in the tone. A lot of the relatively experimental passages wear too firmly and go on for too long (What sort of reptile close-ups phase was Herzog in that week of shooting?), but if you simply must draw parallels with the Abel Ferrara film, it's worth noting that the writing is so non-abstract that it's excessively talky. If that film used sparse content to pose uncomfortable grit and hefty implicit allegories, those virtues are lost on too much casual banter that, with splashes of dark comedy, over-builds personalities in an overblown character roster and drags out filler. The storytelling is already overinflated by loads of subplots and tediously, often convolutedly over-detailed mystery plotting that leans on police procedural conventions. Certainly, this is distinguished as such by the complex procedurals and boldly cynical character drama, but where the counterpart was held back by loose material and viscerally divisive experiments, this is held back by overstuffed material and emptily self-indulgent experiments. To say that this ultimately breaks even is nonetheless to say that it does have plenty of things worth praising.

Peter Zeitlinger's well-defined cinematography sports noirish lighting and artful imagery, as Mark Isham's engrosses with an intensely dramatic prestige that marries bluesy jazz, avant-garde ambience and striking classical bite. These elements bring weight to Werner Herzog's trademark psychedelic musical and visual sensibilities, mounting a disarming atmosphere that fits the toxic content with a quiet account for tonal layers. Tension, black comedy and uniquely eclectic dramatic resonances are focused by settled atmospheres, whereas the more novel set pieces are just bouts of Herzog's auteur masturbation, seeing as how William M. Finkelstein never matches that abstraction. The counterpart ironically used its surrealism to make honestly hardcore cynicism all the more horrifying, whereas this film sheds rich commentary to sensationalize the lead's casual corruption and unethical practices, for the sake of distinguishing a much more dynamic crime thriller and character study. Finkelstein develops a multi-faceted plot with impressive detail (Note his experience in serial crime shows), sustaining flow with a lot of flavorful dialogue that mixes naturalized conversation and dramatic punch-up to build interesting characters, typically instead of supporting character development. As far as the lead, this is an interesting counter to its counterpart as a study on a good man's regression into a vile sack of garbage who never completely parts with his sense of justice, always under the competent management of Nicolas Cage, dishing out his signature quirks at their best. Cage's eccentric charisma, shady composure and intense emotional texture make for a truly nuanced treat that keeps the final product afloat, for all of its strengths and stumbles.

Werner Herzog's signatory flimsy, abstract and indulgently novel directorial style distance one from writing that, ironically, is too bloated with chatter, convoluted plotting and conventions to gain too much momentum, despite the tension mounted by attractive aesthetics and involving tones, or the cleverly robust writing, complex lead characterization and gripping lead performance that keep "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" fairly involving as a trickily bloated and imaginatively thrilling crooked cop drama.

3/5 - Decent