Nicolas Cage is an awe-inspiring actor for two reasons: First, he occasionally leaves viewers shocked over some of the absolutely horrible roles he’s played (Windtalkers, Ghost Rider); second, he’s one of finest, emotional and nuanced actors around (Leaving Las Vegas).
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans has Cage at his best. He is stunning in his full-throttled propulsion of this movie. A.O. Scott, in the New York Times, summed it up best when he wrote Cage’s performance “requires adjectives as yet uncoined, typed with both the caps-lock key and the italics button engaged.”
In this film, Cage’s physicality is reminiscent of Richard Nixon or Jimmy Stewart (if these men had carried guns stuffed down their pants and smoked crack). His words are half-cop, half-drug-addled-gambling-addicted-madman. His hallucinations involve iguanas and breakdancing souls. Cage’s cop, detective Terence McDonagh, in post-Katrina New Orleans, is mired in madness and criminality. What fun!
But it’s not only Cage’s superb feat that makes this movie great. Director Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Fitzcarraldo) spins a fine story, beginning with a back injury that leads to Cage’s promotion (to lieutenant) and a fancy for snorting drugs.
What ensues is too insane for your run-of-the-mill thriller, yet too pulpy not to be considered noir. With every case he investigates, and with every encounter he has with other cops, Cage’s McDonagh is looking to score. He trumps up suspicion on kids coming out of a club just to search for, and confiscate, whatever pills, powder or pot they have on them.
Cage’s McDonagh soon finds himself in far too deep with two sets of organized criminals, his bookie and his superiors on the force. His girlfriend, the prostitute Frankie (Eva Mendes), gets in trouble and McDonagh, tweaky and unreliable, has screwed himself far too many times.
For such a brutal movie, there is somehow a constant undercurrent of joy here. This incongruity is similar to the way Cage enacts this deeply troubled and corrupt character. He’s the only decent man around. (Rated R)