Well, in a real fight I have my sense of who would win here but there’s plenty of room for both these guys in the world, when they’re not doing shitty movies (hmmmph… Mr. Cage I am looking at you here). It’s a bit surprising that I find myself even making a statement that puts talent or enjoyment back in the same sentence as Nick Cage, an actor who I’ve essentially loathed for well over a decade. But the secret truth is, Mr. Cage can pull it off when he wants to. I was first awakened to this fact in 2002 when I walked out of the cinema after seeing Spike Jonze’s amazing Adaptation. I believe my exact words (to Mr. Brown I believe) were, ‘well, I don’t think I’ve ever said it before, and I doubt I’ll ever say it again, but Nick Cage deserves a goddamn Oscar for that movie!’

Yeah, I know. But seriously, have you seen Adaptation? Amazing!!!

Well, it’s pretty much taken what, eight years for the opportunity to arise for me to say something similar about Mr. Cage again. Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is definitely not Oscar worthy as far as acting goes (cinematography maybe, but you’ll argue with me there if you are not a fan of Herzog’s style) but I’ll be damned if I didn’t really, really like it.

First off, lately I’ve actually found myself in the mood for (urk!) Nick Cage movies. It started about two weeks ago when I re-watched David Lynch’s Wild At Heart for the first time in a good couple of years. In watching the film this time I found that I really, really liked it. Sure, it’s not my favorite Lynch film, not even one of his better films in my opinion, but it is definitely a very specific idea captured by Lynch. An idea of love against opposing odds and an interminable environment. And yes Cage (and Laura Dern of course) is a biiiig part of that. This in turn reminded me that yes, there are some pretty good roles Cage has starred in. In fact, off the cuff and without researching it more fully I feel as though it might be safe to say that it wasn’t until he really started to catch on in the mainstream, action movie void that he became such a thorn in my side. I mean, looking back there’s Raising Arizona and, uh, um, well, okay, Raising Arizona and Wild At Heart, that’ll have to do.

But Port of Call… pretty damn good. I know a lot of you out there will question my sanity after reading this endorsement but I am quite serious. And whether you’ve seen it or not there are a few things to keep in mind before judging the film as harshly as you might at first be motivated to.

The main accusations of travesty I’ve been privy to in regards to Port of Call is that Herzog trounced on Abel Ferrara’s original Bad Lieutenant film, a movie many claim needs no remake or update. Well, I’ve been a fan of Ferrara’s movie since I first saw it in the mid-nineties and I have to say – it’s enjoyable as hell to watch Keitel stumble around in his underwear, chasing the dragon and dancing with hookers, but it is not by any means a great film. Granted, neither is Port of Call, but in my opinion this means there is room for both. Look at Ferrara’s film – there’s next to no plot, or at least only enough of one to propel Keitel into increasingly lude and bizarre situations.  Then suddenly it’s as if someone close to him brought this to Ferrara’s attention and suddenly about a third of the way through we get this ridiculous subplot (if you can call it that) of a nun being raped. Thing is, this parallel storyline feels so out of place and, dare I say it contrived when stuck smack dab in the middle of Keitel’s downward spiral that it comes off more like Ferrara felt he needed to go back and add some element of tragedy that we the viewers could be compassionate about. Because make no mistake, there is no compassion available what so ever for the Lieutenant. How could there be when the sheer joy of the movie comes from watching this fucked up individual get more and more fucked up with each passing scene, until he is broken and (literally) howling like an animal.

Another thing to consider: Herzog’s film is not a remake nor an update, despite the fact that the studio seems to enjoy calling it a ‘loose update’. Herzog himself has claimed he has never seen Ferrara’s and honestly, I do not doubt the man. Sure, Cage’s Lieutenant goes through a very similar slide to Keitel’s: drugs, whores, abusing his power for public (and bizarre) sexual favors and of course, gambling debt. But there’s more emphasis on story in Port of Call and I almost hate to say it but I really liked Nicolas Cage in the role. He maintained a certain tainted swagger that rappelled his character through the movie. The supporting cast is great (Brad Dourif, Brad Dourif, Brad Dourif) and the cinematography is nothing short of fascinating. Herzog seems to make movies first by falling in love with a particular location, as evidenced in not only Port of Call but other films like Fitzcaraldo, Incident at Loch Ness, The Wild Blue Yonder, Wheel of Time, etc. As part of this he takes risks with the lens that other, less confident filmmakers might not, such as, in Port of Call, the rather ostentatious holds on the lizards (set to music no less). And it’s little flourishes such as that, two minutes here or there in a two-hour film, that flush out the character of the film, so that Port of Call wasn’t just the story of a madman spiralling into the void of addiction and desperation, but a strange and lurid window into an imaginary life among a unique human ecosystem that felt less hyperbolic than the other film that shares its name.

Of course as I write this I find myself wanting to go back and re-watch, yet again, Harvey Keitel lose money on Daryl Strawberry while dancing naked with whores, high on heroin. Clearly, if these men must battle, we the audience are the ones who truly win.