Friday, 26 February 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: The Bad Lieutenant - Port Of Call: New Orleans

The Bad Lieutenant – Port Of Call: New Orleans

This isn’t a sequel and it isn’t a remake but it’s thematically similar to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 dirty cop drama. Stylistically, it’s completely different. Excess is very much the key to Werner Herzog’s take on it and, as such, what to judge it on becomes murkier than a Louisiana bayou.

Opening immediately post-Katrina, we’re introduced to this film’s Bad Lieutenant, Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), and it’s not immediately clear why he’s earned the eponymous moniker. The worst he seems to do is stealing a few nudie photos of a colleague’s wife. As he begins the investigation of a murdered Senegalese family, he rapidly becomes embroiled in a series of potentially fatal situations of his own causing. It’s only then we’re introduced to his unorthodox methods and catalogue of vices; which range from smoking crack and demanding sex as a bribe to getting impatient at waiting times in a pharmacy.

Werner Herzog has been known to nurture lunacy in his actors and he certainly does nothing to rein-in what has become Nicolas Cage’s trademark manic style of late. If anything, it would appear he’s asked him to amp it up. It’s practically played for comedy with Cage’s performance so ridiculous that it’s strangely watchable. He hunches his shoulders, he pulls faces, he screeches and he delivers the most ludicrous of dialogue (“I snorted what I thought was coke. It turned out to be heroin. I gotta be at work in an hour”) with ill-fitting brio. There’s no restraint in his interpretation. Whereas Harvey Keitel approached his similar role with a level of internalisation, Cage approaches it with all the subtlety of a raving pantomime villain.

It lurches from scene to scene with little in the way of coherence. It has to be assumed that Herzog is doing all this deliberately. The erratic style fits the character and vice versa. When, apropos of nothing, he decides to leave a scene by focusing on an extreme close-up of an alligator and following it at ground level as it scuttles off, you go along with it. The seemingly random is commonplace throughout the film from hallucinatory iguanas to Turner & Hooch-style dogsitting dilemmas.

The film has the appearance of having been shot fast and loose. There’s nothing grand about the cinematography and it suits the frenetic style. If anything, the film could do with a sizeable chunk of it judiciously pruned. There’s often too much going on with characters like the Lieutenant’s prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) getting lost in the confusion. Solid actors like Val Kilmer and Michael Shannon are reduced to cameos and wasted as little more than expository characters for Cage to bounce off.

As a thriller, it’s never gripping and as a character study it’s lacking any depth. Once you’ve been introduced to his ‘badness’, the novelty wears off and you’re left with a character reduced to acting like a petulant child and developing a Jimmy Stewart accent after three-quarters of the film. It’s completely unsure of what it wants to be, but that’s part of its shambling charm.

If entering into the spirit of it and accepting it as deliberately ludicrous, it’s a partial success. As McDonagh unravels and creates a perfect storm, while engaging in patently ridiculous acts like torturing elderly women, it’s hard not to laugh. When it delivers what may be the most wondrously neat conclusion of all time, it’s hard to interpret its intentions any other way.

It may be lacking in focus, but not in vision and it certainly has to be treated as a wholly separate entity to Ferrara’s film. It’s never po-faced and Herzog and Cage have been undoubtedly brave to interpret the material in this way.

It’s so nuts it might just be brilliant.


Read my extended and reworked review over at

No comments:

Post a Comment