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

April 5th, 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The original Bad Lieutenant came out in 1992. It was directed by Abel Ferrara, who is not known for his commercial success, and it featured Harvey Keitel in what is perhaps his most powerful performance. The very nature of the film precluded it from mainstream success, but among certain art house fans it is held in very high regard. So when it was revealed that a remake was planned, a lot of people were upset, not the least of which was Abel Ferrara. A funny thing happened: despite the animosity toward this film, it earned better reviews than the original film. Despite that, this movie still managed to make less at the box office. Strange. So is this a case of this being a film that only a critic could like? Or was it unfairly overlooked by moviegoers?

The film starts during hurricane Katrina with Terrence McDonagh and his partner, Stevie Pruit, discovering that a prisoner was accidentally left behind. With the water already rising to neck level, it is only a matter of time before the prisoner will drown, something that neither man seems very concerned with. However, Terrence decides to do something uncharacteristically heroic and jumps into the water to save the man. In doing so, he injures his back. He is promoted to Lieutenant for his actions, but he's also in constant pain and on prescription painkillers.

Six months later, he's put in charge of an investigation of the execution of the Ndele family, a family from Senagale whose father was dealing drugs to make ends meet. While trying to find the killers, Terrence has to deal with his ever-increasing drug dependence and his increasingly desperate attempts to get drugs. (He's unable to get them from the police evidence locker, because they've increased security.) He turns to targeting couples leaving a popular nightclub, stealing whatever drugs they have on them. He even robs the clients of his girlfriend / prostitute, Frankie. Unfortunately, he robs the wrong guy, and combined with the gambling problem, he needs a lot of cash, fast. He turns to Big Fate, the local drug kingpin... and number one suspect for the Ndele murders.

His life quickly spirals down from there. Quite frankly, it didn't begin in a very good place to start.

I'm having difficulty reviewing this movie, because I'm not sure I understand it. I had to watch the last half-hour a couple of times trying to figure it out. I'm going to discuss a couple of competing theories, but this involves major spoilers, so be warned. At one point when Terrence is at his lowest, he gets some very pure drugs from Big Fate and he's warned to cut it before selling it to anyone or else he could kill his clients. After that point, things start to really go his way. (The mob enforcer after him is killed, he wins a major bet after being down by a dozen points, he gets the evidence he needs to turn on Big Fate, he gets another promotion, he's going to have a kid with Frankie, Frankie and his father completed rehab, he's clean and sober, etc.) At this point, I'm thinking he's hallucinated all of this because he's high. Or maybe he didn't cut the pure drugs and he OD'ed later on and this is his brain trying to make him happy one time before shutting down. Or maybe this all really happened. That last theory had merit because the film ends with Terrence slipping into his old habits and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for him to imagine that he fell off the wagon. Then again, he also meets the criminal he saved in the beginning of the movie who has apparently turned himself around and that is a bit too big of a coincidence to swallow. Whatever Werner Herzog intended, the fact that I went back and rewatched so much of the movie to try and figure it out proves that Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is superior to the first film, at least in my opinion. By the end of the old Bad Lieutenant, I didn't give a damn what happened to the titular character.

Part of the reason I liked this movie when I didn't like the previous one is the fact that I liked Nicolas Cage's performance. I'm not sure I would argue that Nicolas Cage gave a better performance in this movie than Harvey Keitel did in the original, but because of the prologue, the character comes across as a lot more sympathetic. He becomes addicted to drugs because of an heroic act. Most of the corruption that follows is the result of him trying to get drugs. Granted, he was likely a dirt-bag all along, but at least there's some humanity we can hold onto. Also, I like the style Werner Herzog brings to the production. It's less unrelentingly dark and gritty with some scenes that are just... well... out there. The scene with the accident caused by the alligator (or is it a crocodile?) has a style to it that is lacking in the original.

Overall, it is an easy recommendation.

Extras on the DVD include a 30-minute "making of" featurette that has more behind-the-scenes than most similar featurettes. We get to see a number of the scenes being filmed and hear some interesting tidbits on how they were shot. (I like the part about how they made the water so black in the opening scene.) There is also an image gallery and an alternate trailer that they wisely didn't use.

The Blu-ray has no additional extras, but it also doesn't cost anything more on Its list price is only $1 more, so it's a great deal even without the extra Amazon discount. As for its technical presentation, I have to say I'm impressed. The movie is a relatively low-budget film that never earned a wide theatrical release, so I was worried the video would be on the weak side, but that is not the case. The transfer is clean and free from artifacts, the colors are bright, the blacks are strong, etc. The audio is very clear, although a little heavy on the center speaker, but there are some scenes that make good use of the rear speakers.

The Verdict

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is arguably Nicolas Cage's best work in years. (Although that will likely change with the release of Kick Ass.) It's a shame that so few people got a chance to see it in theaters, but now that it is coming out on the home market, it is worth picking up. Neither the DVD nor the Blu-ray have a lot of extras, but both are worth grabbing, while the latter is the better value.

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