I was a huge fan of Abel Ferrera’s 1992 emotionally resonant original starring Harvey “You fuck… you fucken fuck” Keitel as a corrupt New York cop that kept trying to do right even as he became progressively unhinged in one of his most sincere, and richly bleak performances ever. It was a dark cop thriller that explored the ambiguity of religion and morality with an ultimate message of redemption.
Now one of my favourite auteurs Werner Herzog has updated it (rather than remade it – it bears no resemblance to the original other than having a corrupt cop as the lead) in his own eccentric style with Nicholas Cage in the title role giving one of his best performances in years.
He’s backed up by a superb support cast including Eva Mendes (as smoking hot as usual as Frankie Donnenfeld, a high-end hooker who’s Cage’s girlfriend), Xzibit (who definitely has the charisma but not quite the menace required of his drug dealing murderous character Big Fate), and Val Kilmer as Cage’s friend Stevie Pruit.
Trailer for Abel Ferrera’s original “Bad Lieutenant”
Cage’s character Terrence McDonagh starts off a good, straight cop, but after injuring his back gets progressively hooked on prescription – and then not so prescription pain killers like coke, weed, crack and heroin. His moral choices deteriorate as his addictions deepen, but you still sympathise with him as the humour becomes ever blacker.
After a while you can’t tell what’s real and what’s just crazy hallucinations, particularly the iguana and gator scenes, and the location of post-Katrina New Orleans certainly abets the surreal nature of certain scenes.
The tension mounts as Cage’s search for the murderer of an entire immigrant Senegalese family leads him into darker and darker choices, but because Herzog is at the helm the story never becomes predictable, and ends satisfyingly but ambiguously.
I knew I was going to love this movie, but it’s made it to #22 at the box office on opening weekend – surely Herzog’s highest – and the critics love it too. 8/10
Trailer for Werner Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”