Mark Metcalf
MFF Winter Review

The Bad Lieutenant

By - Mar 12th, 2010 04:00 am
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Badlieutenant The films featured in Milwaukee Film’s  mid-year Winter Edition are highly ambitious, and it goes without saying that the programming at the Milwaukee Film Festival has always been and continues to be extraordinary.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is perhaps the most high-profile film in the MFF Winter Edition lineup. Nicholas Cage’s performance is already being talked about as Oscar worthy and is certainly the best of his career. The film is based loosely on the 1992 Abel Ferrara/Harvey Keitel (Bad Lieutenant) collaboration, but director Werner Herzog has taken it to his own dimension.  Herzog is the great German director of the 1970s and ’80s who directed small masterpieces like Stroszek and larger ones like Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. He then moved to the United States and began to direct some wonderful documentaries, including Milwaukee favorite Grizzly Man.


Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes in a scene from Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, by Firstlook Studios.

The film begins in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As that storm of nature recedes and the rebuilding of the city begins, a man-made storm of drugs, gambling and crime gathers momentum. These elements are all personified perfectly in Cage’s characterization, and eventually he becomes as destructive to himself and everyone he comes in contact with as Katrina was to the city of New Orleans.

It is a brilliant film on many levels,  particularly because of Cage’s performance. But it’s also the way that Herzog communicates what is essentially at the heart of the film : the fact that man, try as he will to ascend above and beyond his natural environment, whether it be in high-rise buildings with the best chemicals man can produce or with prayers and religion in a church, he will always see himself more clearly in the glassy eye of an iguana.

Tennessee Williams spent a good portion of his life in New Orleans, found respite there and understood the city as only a native can.  I’m reminded of something he once said regarding the misfortunes of his friend and colleague Elia Kazan and his response to the House Un-American Activities Committee, “… I take no attitude about it, one way or another, as I am not a political person and human venality is something I always expect and forgive.”

In The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, it seems that Werner Herzog has learned this difficult lesson. His homage to the beleaguered city and to the desperation and vagaries of the human spirit make for a wonderful motion picture experience.

All films in the Milwaukee Film Winter Edition Film Festival will screen at the Marcus North Shore Cinema, located at 11700 N. Port Washington Rd., Mequon. For showtimes, click here.

Mark Metcalf is a writer, professional actor and resident of Milwaukee. He hosts TCD’s weekly podcast “Backstage with Mark Metcalf” and authors the film blog “Moving Pictures.” Mark is also Milwaukee Film’s Director of Collaborative Cinema, giving area students hands-on experience with film-making.

Categories: Movies

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