Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (2009, Werner Herzog; Cinematographer: Peter Zeitlinger)
“Do fish have dreams?” Terrence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) asks at the end of Wener Herzog’s over-the-top Bad Lieutenant remake in a moment that’s anything but over-the-top. When did this batshit movie about a narcotics obsessed, dirty cop become so muted and cathartic? Weren’t there break-dancing spirits and an old woman being choked to death with her own oxygen tube just an hour ago?
This is Herzog’s genius, this emotional kaleidoscope of fury and pathos, which has been with him since his earliest offerings. He takes a character who could essentially be one note, a joke (or a meme considering it’s Nick “bees” Cage), and so carefully bleeds in dimension that the viewer can’t even pinpoint the moment s/he started to care. McDonagh, like many Herzog’s protagonists is larger than life, but unlike say, Fitzcarraldo, he’s missing an overarching, driving goal. He’s Fitzcarraldo without a mountain, and he drifts aimless around the dangerous streets, attempting to find salvation through conquest, though of what, he’s not exactly sure.
Look at this shot; it’s hypnotic, peaceful. Peter Zeitlinger, who can match game with both Herzog’s narrative and documentary styles, captures a moment of respite between McDonagh and the prisoner he saves from drowning in the film’s prologue. They are in front of the glass, protected from the deep abyss, and the circling sharks. It’s McDonagh’s turn to be saved, and all is calm, for now.