Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), a homicide detective with the New Orleans Police Department, is promoted to Lieutenant after he saves a prisoner from drowning in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. However, during his heroic act, he severely injures his back and is put on prescription pain medication.
A year later, Terence—struggling with his addictions to sex, Vicodin and cocaine—finds himself in the battle to bring down drug dealer Big Fate, who is suspected of massacring an entire family of African immigrants.
The inner battle between good and evil has never been so bizarre, or delightful. 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans' is a stark, unflinching character piece centering on high-strung New Orleans detective Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage). There's no getting around it, Terence is bonkers. Drugs have taken their toll on him. He sees imaginary iguanas. It doesn't get much crazier than that.
Thing is, Terence wasn't always so nutty. During a kindhearted deed he screwed up his back and was prescribed pain meds. After he became addicted to Vicodin, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs soon followed.
Because of his ever-painful back, Terence walks around with a permanent hunch, which Cage seems to exaggerate more and more as the movie continues. As the hunch grows, so too does the insanity. Cage is the perfect person for this role. Those eyes, that wild hair, he's a believable nutcase.
Terence is in love with a prostitute. He doesn't really care that she's a prostitute (Eva Mendes), and she seems to be in love with him too. Both are addicts, neither is trying to get clean, instead they enable each other. Their love appears to be genuine however. How two addicts can carry on a half-way decent relationship with one of them being a full time hooker is a mystery.
We watch as Terence tries to navigate his job, which he does astonishingly by the book. But, when he needs drugs, he'll do anything to get them. The drugs do indeed mess with him, but that doesn't stop him from being an effective cop. That's the most bizarre thing about this movie. Even while he's high, Terence is still trying to be a good, decent cop. It's almost as if he literally has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both yelling (definitely not whispering) at him what to do. He's stuck in a constant struggle with the drugs, and they're weighing him down.
This is not your typical movie. Werner Herzog ('Rescue Dawn') is a fearless director. Cage and Herzog are a match made in cinematic heaven. As Herzog pushes forward, creating more foreboding dread, Cage counters it with sheer insanity. It's impossible to predict what's coming next.
Recently, Cage has been blasted for his work in films like 'Knowing' and 'Bangkok Dangerous,' but 'Bad Lieutenant' proves he isn't just an actor who's working for a paycheck (which would be understandable given his current financial situation). His performance here is by far one of the best of 2009. How he didn't get nominated for Best Actor is beyond me. Herzog on the other hand, crafts a darkly comedic masterpiece, which by all accounts could have been just another generic police movie. When you get to the final scene you can't help but smile and laugh, without really knowing why. That's a good thing.
There's a plot, yes, but it's more of a procedural police drama than anything. In all honesty, it's not unlike anything you'd see on 'Law and Order,' but that's not what's so fun about this movie. Cage's performance and Herzog's methodical directorial style mesh together so well that you forget you're watching a ho-hum police procedural.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer from First Look is an overall pleasing high-def presentation, but it does suffer somewhat from inconsistency. The transfer harbors some great facial details during close ups. Contrast seems a tad overdone, causing some whites, and flesh tones, to appear ever-so-slightly washed out. Colors are vibrant and rich for the most part, but seem muted in other areas of the film. Wide searching cityscape scenes are nicely rendered. Dark scenes provide enough clarity to get by, but some shadow-filled scenes appear flat and a tad one-dimensional. Some, but not a lot of grain is present, adding a very filmic look to the production. This is a good looking presentation, but it isn't going to be thrown into BD players as demo material.
The first thing that pops out in First Look's 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio presentation is the bombastic, and enthralling stage it sets for Mark Isham's threatening and sinister soundtrack. The LFE is alive and well, creating a sense of dread. Impending doom seems just around the corner. At other times, the soundtrack is light and breezy with a hint of jazzy New Orleans flavor sprinkled in. I found myself adjusting my center channel slightly upwards to get clearer dialogue. Cage has a tendency to mumble lines here and there, sometimes he's a little hard to hear. At first glance you wouldn't seem to think this audio presentation would hold much, but it does hide a few treasures. While the dialogue could have been a little bit more clear, the rest of the track sounds great.
I have half a mind to give zero stars on the special features section just because this amazing film comes to Blu-ray sans commentary. I would have loved to hear a back and forth conversation between Herzog and Cage discussing the performances and the directorial choices. Not having a commentary here is definitely a missed opportunity.
Cage is brilliant, Herzog is masterful. That's all that needs to be said. 'Bad Lieutenant' is a journey into drug induced madness that you won't soon forget. The video is, overall, satisfying and the sound presentation is better than one might expect. The extras offer a very slim package, but that shouldn't stop you from seeing one of the best acting performances of 2009. This one comes highly recommended.