filM noIrSERY LOVES COMPANY: Reviews of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day and The Missing Person

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is the ultimate revenge fantasy. No, not the story in the movie, but the movie itself. After having been used badly by Harvey Weinstein (to put it mildly and so the rumors go), Troy Duffy (the writer/ director of both Boondock Saints films) basically told Harvey to go fuck himself. Out of the ashes that he found himself in, Troy, the phoenix, managed to make a film (the first Saints) that became a cult favorite and has now managed to write the sequel. Which means that he has basically told Harvey to go fuck himself twice and gotten away with it (or so the rumors go). I can’t say that The Boondock Saints I or II is my cup of tea, but I found a certain fascination in watching both of them. The writing is clever in both, but perhaps even more so in the sequel. There are some wonderful set pieces where Julie Benz, playing an FBI agent, reconstructs events leading up to the crime scene. And overall, there is something exciting about Duffy’s approach to storytelling structure. But for me, from a directing standpoint, everything was a bit too much, from the accents to the acting to the way everything was directed in a very frenetic, in your face manner. It’s as if Duffy was trying to out Tarrentino Tarrentino, which he might have a chance in doing as a writer, but so far, doesn’t show any real signs of being able to do it as a director. There is also something intriguuing about Duffy’s moral theology by way of the Catholic church (it’s certainly brave of him; very few writers, at least in the U.S., would be so open about it). At the same time, there’s something deeply disturbing about the dénouement where the Catholic Church is set up as the ultimate arbiter of good and evil, a sort of modern day Inquisition (and we all know how well that went over the last time that happened). What might be really interesting is getting get Duffy and Dan Brown in the same room and letting them duke it out; what a match that might be.

As surrealistic as Boondocks II, but much more level headed in approach to directing (if such a thing can be believed), is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans. I call it whack. Whatever else it may be, this film by director Werner Herzog and the screenwriter William Finkelstein is definitely whack. Nicholas Cage plays a New Orleans police detective who rescues a criminal during Katrina and injures his back, causing him to become a drug addict. And whatever else you can say about Cage, he goes there, he really goes there. Wearing one shoulder higher than the other as if he were playing Richard III, eyes growing increasingly darker and skin constantly paler, he eventually begins to resemble Klaus Kinski in Herzog’s version of Nosferatu. Cage doesn’t just stop at nothing to play this character, his character also stops at nothing to solve a homicide of a family that got caught up in a drug war. There are three basic plots going on here: the homicide; Cage’s problems with drug addiction and a gambling debt; and his relationships with his recovering alcoholic father, his step-mother (who only drinks beer, so isn’t an alcoholic) and his drug addicted prostitute girlfriend. Though I lost some of the plot strands here and there on the homicide investigation, all the stories had me on the edge of my seat. And while Finkelstein’s film noir plot, full of fun and clever twists and turns, goes on its gleeful way, Herzog throws it all into a somewhat surrealistic pot and stirs frantically; somehow the two styles not just work together, they complement each other. It has been well cast, not just in the leads, but in the smaller roles where such people as Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Michael Shannon, Shawn Hatosy (what a great face), and Jennifer Coolidge (in probably her greatest performance, playing against type as Cage’s step mother) show up (an excellent primer on how to cast supporting roles, in fact). The city is overcast and depressing, even when it’s sunny, and it’s filled with alligators and iguanas even when they aren’t really there (you have to see the movie). There is no real moral to the story, except perhaps that life does not come equipped with morals. In fact, every time you think Finkelstein is going to wrap things up in a typical Hollywood character arc way, he sabotages it and takes you down a different path. Is the movie any good? I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t care, that I had a great time and that it is definitely whack.

The Missing Person is more a throwback to the olden days of film noir, with a boozing, alcoholic PI caught up in a web of intrigue with lots of twist and turns. The mood is the strongest aspect of this film and it alone almost holds your interest in and of itself (most of the scenes take place at night or in dark, shadowy rooms—the cinematography is from the Gordon Willis school of The Godfather—and even the daylight scenes seem a bit dark even when it isn’t). But the story never quite holds together. Michael Shannon plays the PI, a self-destructive wino with a tragic past (and it is tragic, the revelation revolving around 9/11 is very moving). He is hired through a friend to trail someone on a train from New York to L.A., but is not told the whole story (are private eyes ever told the whole story). He ends up being used as all self-destructive, boozing PI’s with a tragic past are. Shannon’s character is a puzzlement. At times he’s rather brilliant at what he does. At other times, he seems like the biggest idiot in the business, but more at the convenience of the writer (Noah Buschel, who also directed) than because this dichotomy is an organic part of his personality. Much of the story doesn’t make a lot of sense; people don’t always act as logically as they should; and the ending is more head scratching than satisfying. But there is something oddly intriguing about it at the same time.

So tell me what you think.

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