It would appear my impromptu Eva Mendes retrospective has become an actual event. Funny how that happens.
My soul is still dancing.
New Orleans cop Terrence McDonagh has just been promoted to lieutenant after saving the life of a prisoner who was about to drown when Katrina flooded the holding cells. After injuring his back in this act of heroism, he is prescribed painkillers to which he soon becomes addicted, along with every other drug he can get his hands on. His self-destructive behaviour comes to a head during the investigation into the murder of a family of illegal immigrants. Iguanas ensue.
I’m going to get my apologies out of the way first. Real life is intruding, so today’s column might be a bit shorter than most. There is quite a lot I’d like to say about this movie but I just don’t have the time to say it all. Maybe I’ll expand it for the book.
Werner Herzog’s sort-of sequel/follow-up/remake/whatever* of Abel Ferrara’s epic examination of Catholic guilt shifts the action from the grime of New York to a recovering New Orleans, and shifts the tone from tragedy to a deliciously skewed black comedy. Nicolas Cage fully embraces the crazy as the chemically assisted McDonagh. I don’t think I’ve seen someone take this many different drugs in a film since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Watching his descent from mostly decent cop to someone who would pull a gun on an old lady in a wheelchair (one of the film’s funniest scenes, by the way) is definitely the highlight of the movie. McDonagh is grounded by his prostitute girlfriend Frankie, another beautiful but damaged character for Eva Mendes to sink her teeth into. And sink her teeth in, she does. If Terrence is the whirlwind of insanity driving the plot, then Frankie is the emotional core of the story.
Herzog has assembled a strong supporting cast to back up these two, including Val Kilmer as McDonagh’s partner Stevie; Shea Whigham as one of Frankie’s clients; Brad Dourif as McDonagh’s bookie; and Xzibit as local gangster Big Fate. William Finkelstein’s script just crackles with excitement, giving every character their share of great lines and moments. There is an argument to be made about how much of what we see is actually happening and how much is just a figment of McDonagh’s addled mind. That would be a fun conversation to have with Werner Herzog no doubt.
Don’t worry if you haven’t seen Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, as the two share no connecting tissue besides the title. Herzog himself claimed never to have even seen it when this flick was first being screened. This is an excellent film, with a gloriously frantic Nicolas Cage performance at its core. Nicolas unCaged, if you will. I’m sorry, I know that’s incredibly cheesy but I always just liked the sound of it.
*Apparently he calls it a rethought. Yeah, okay.