Bad Lieutenants

In Werner Herzog’s quirky dark comedy The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call–New Orleans (a remake of an earlier Harvey Keitel vehicle), Nicholas Cage plays a cop who is a serious dick: he’s an irritable, capricious, drug-gorged gambling nut who robs civilians and happily serves as a mole for a local narco-king (a job for which he gets paid in cocaine).  But Cage’s portrayal—his first halfway decent work in a long time—also renders Lt. McDonagh a kind of damaged Romantic hero.  He’s a selfish prick, but he’s also smart, ironical, and tenacious.  Herzog’s film is the best fictional treatment of post-Katrina New Orleans that anybody has done in the five years since that catastrophe, and you should see it.

In real New Orleans, though, things aren’t so charming.  Bad cops are just bad, and unfortunately the NOPD has a nasty habit of employing (and promoting) lots of them.  Add this to an unprecedented civic disaster during which everyone was understandably losing their shit, stir in decades of terrible race relations (like most urban American police departments, New Orleans’ has a shitty track record re: poor black and brown people), and you get a situation like the one Frontline‘s most recent documentary, Law and Disorder, unpacks in saddening detail.  In the first days of the great flood, a young black man who was apparently doing nothing worse than gathering stray foodstuffs in a shopping mall’s parking lot got murdered by a nervous NOPD rookie, after which high-ranking members of the city’s S.W.A.T. force attempted to conceal things by personally torching the man’s body in his car (and beating the shit out of friends who got involved).  Frontline is the best in-depth news program in the U.S., and here they’ve partnered with journalists from Pro Publica and the New Orleans Times-Picayune to produce an incisive, if depressing, story about some of the ethnic tensions, many of them institutional, that continue to trouble “post-racial” America.  Watch it here.



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