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Blu-ray Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

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Bad Lieutenant was a 1992 film directed by Abel Ferrara that starred Harvey Keitel as the titular member of a police force. Let it be known that while similar in theme and name, 2009's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans by Werner Herzog has absolutely nothing to do with the original. It's by no means a continuation of the storyline, or even involved in any way with Ferrera's production, it's just merely a coincidence apparently. New Orleans is its own film and stands on its own two feet, and that's thanks largely to the stellar performance by Nicolas Cage.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans begins shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Sergeant Terrence McDonagh (Cage) and Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) are pawing through the records of a flooded and deserted prison when they discover a prisoner up to his neck in water. Time's running out for the prisoner as McDonagh and Pruit poke some fun at him for the situation he's in. Eventually McDonagh's conscience gets the better of him and he jumps into the water to rescue the convict. This is the singular event that sends his life in a downward spiral due to a severe back injury he sustains from the jump.

For his bravery in the line of duty McDonagh is promoted to Lieutenant. Though crippled, he's more than able to do the job, but he needs something to take the edge off so he begins with prescription painkillers. It's not long before one drug leads to another and eventually McDonagh is hitting whatever illegal drugs come his way. Coke, heroin, and pot all make their way into his hands through the use of intimidation on the street and the property department at his station. In this regard Port of Call New Orleans is a fascinating deconstruction of the man as he just keeps going from bad to worse.

Drugs aside, McDonagh is still able to perform his job quite well. He's been placed in charge of the investigation of a family's murder and that serves as his driving force. He's willing to do whatever it takes to function with the pain, and whatever it takes to see that the killer is brought to justice. It's not long until the investigative path leads him to the area's largest drug dealer and I think you can imagine what happens here considering McDonagh's addictions.

On top of all these problems McDonagh finds himself investigated by his superiors at one point. He also has to deal with a bookie he's in the hole with, he pisses off a powerful client of his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), and he has to put up with his dysfunctional parents. Events start spinning out of control from the start and one must give credit to Herzog for holding the script together. This is a tightly woven piece that never loses sight of what it is.

The largest kudos with regard to the quality of the film simply must go to Nicolas Cage, who portrays McDonagh's unhinged nature perfectly. In every scene you get the impression that Cage was having almost too much fun as the destructive lieutenant. His performance shines here and it's arguably the best we've seen from him in a long time, despite the fact that the character is overplayed to a cartoonish degree at times. It's hard to take the man seriously when he's threatening old ladies in a nursing home or hallucinating about iguanas, but that's par for the course, I suppose.

Overall Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is an exciting and dangerous kind of film that contains just the right element of camp. While the story about a drug addicted lieutenant doing bad things may be a theme similar to Ferrara's effort, Cage's performance and the post-Katrina setting truly make this film stand out. It's whimsical, appropriately paced, and sharp the whole way through. If you're looking for a gripping drama with elements of a black comedy, this is definitely one to check out.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is presented on Blu-ray with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio. The film hits with a full 1080p and MPEG-4 AVC encoding. The picture quality of this movie looks fantastic overall. Details are sharp and well defined, black levels boast a nice depth, and all around the picture quality is mostly free of grain and other artifacts. There are times where noise works its way into the picture, but these are generally during the bizarre lizard-cam moments that don't really fit anywhere in the film. Otherwise this is a solid looking transfer with plenty going for it.

For the audio presentation, this disc features Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The 5.1 mix is certainly the way to go since it contains a much more robust, clean, and refined experience. The dialogue here is sharp and presented nicely, as is the film's score and atmospheric noise. The soundstage is a tad muted in terms of LFE, however, and background noise tends to drown out during moments of conversation. Overall this is a solid audio presentation for the film, but it could have been a bit more immersive.

For extra features this disc comes with some previews and a couple of trailers for the film. An impressive photo gallery is available here with images shot by Lena Herzog. The mean and potatoes of the supplemental content is easily "The Making of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" (31:10), which is exactly what you'd think it would be. Interviews with the director and cast are included here as well as behind the scenes shots and other snippets of production. It's worth checking out once you finish the film, even if it's a little self-serving.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans may not be the best film ever produced, but it's a truly engaging piece. Cage is stellar as the drug-addled lieutenant combined with the post-Katrina atmosphere and Herzog's direction (aside the bizarre lizard-cam moments) make for a very compelling film. Their efforts come together in the form of a dark comedy where you never quite know what's going to happen next. It's an entertaining movie that doesn't require much of an investment from its viewers, so in that sense it's a bit of a guilty pleasure. Consider it recommended.

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About Todd Douglass

  • I just watched this movie last night. I thought it was awful. Probably because I used to work for a police dept. I didn’t like the Lt. doing coke and cussing all the time. I hated him for treating the pharmacist like she was an idiot. I stopped watching the movie after about 30 minutes. I just thought it was awful. It is amazing how you thought it as so great and I think it was awful. Even my husband didn’t finish the movie.