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Who’s a naughty boy then?

05/01/2011

Three whole days with nary a cigarette nor alcoholic beverage between them don’t sound like much but I am already starting to feel the benefit on my bedraggled system. I have some considerable way to go in each of these areas in order to achieve the goals I set out last week (three undred and sixty two further days with no nicotine, fifty seven with no booze) but I am feeling rather optimistic about both objectives. Someone who would probably benefit considerably from such abstinence would be Terry McDonagh, the titular anti-hero in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans, a “reimagining” of the controversial and challenging 1992 Abel Ferrara film. You don’t need to be a detective to figure out there are spoilers on the horizon.

Terry (played by Nicolas Cage in fine demented form) is a highly decorated, well respected detective in the New Orleans police department who, due to an unfortunate accident that has left him in permanent, crippling back pain, also happens to be addicted to a broad spectrum of pharmaceuticals ranging from prescription pain killers to illegal narcotics. Along with partner Stevie (a bloated, mulleted are-you-sure-its-him Val Kilmer) he gets results but behind the medals and arrests is a man who lies, cheats and steals his way through life in order to maintain his chemical dependencies. When an investigation into the massacre of an entire family by the local drug baron threatens to go nowhere, Terry employs some unorthodox methods to bring the perpetrator to justice, getting into some major scrapes along the way.

Its an odd film, there’s no mistake. Firstly, its far more lighthearted than the ’92 Bad Lieutenant. I know that wouldn’t be difficult but Herzog has gone for an almost overtly comedic tone, often cut through with darkness and villainy but ostensibly its played for rather dark laughs. Terry swaggers about, shoulders hunched due to his back injury, unable to move his head independently of his body in an almost permanent state of intoxication. Cage is clearly in his element. While maybe not on a par with Wild At Heart (my favourite Nic Cage film) it does seem as though he has rediscovered some of the insane energy he brought to Lynch’s masterpiece. Here he does well to balance the two sides of Terry Mcdonagh. A driven and determined cop who wants to bring a brutal murderer to justice on one hand, a gun toting, drug snorting maniac on the other.

The idea of this internal conflict is apparent everywhere in the film. At its core it seems to be a story about the disparity between the external appearance of the world and its true inner reality and the inner reality would appear to be, at least according to Herzog, a festering corruption at the heart of everything. Nowhere is this more apparent than when we see Terry return to his family home, it’s disrepair and rot a clear indicator of how he has ended up in his current predicament. His father and step mother are both alcoholics and the blueprint for his self destructive, addictive personality. Its in the house itself though, its air of dark foreboding and its mildewed rotting decor that we are given the biggest insight into Terry’s corrupted soul.

Terry’s antics seem to go largely unnoticed by his superiors (at least up until he uses somewhat extreme interrogation methods on a resident of a rest home to find a missing witness) but he doesn’t get to carry on as he wishes, free from consequences. Over the course of the film he manages to cross various people including mobsters and a senator, the consequences of which threaten to consume him, ending his career or his life or both. At times it feels like an episode of The Shield with Terry juggling so many dodgy schemes he seems almost doomed to fail. Somewhat surprisingly he finds a way to wriggle out of the whole sorry affair. With more corrupt dealings he successfully brings the murderers to justice, digs himself and his girlfriend out of a very deep mafia related hole and saves his job, getting a promotion into the bargain. It would seem that the morality we would expect to find is absent from Herzog’s post-Catriona New Orleans. Not only is the world rotten to the core, its the most twisted and rotten individuals that get results for the rest of us.

It’s an odd film. Overall I rather enjoyed it, its certainly funny and the humour doesn’t seem to get in the way of the more serious elements. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen its Abel Ferrara namesake but from what I can remember it was almost unwatchably grim and unrelenting. I appreciate that this was probably the point, but happily its not an issue Herzog’s version seems to suffer from. If you like your comedy dark you should definitely check it out.

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