TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2009 Review: Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant
by Alex Billington
September 7, 2009
Not to be confused with Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant from 1992, this newest film from German director Werner Herzog, one of two he premiered at Telluride, is not a remake. Instead, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is sort of a re-imaging, a maniacal, over-the-top tale about a Police Lieutenant from New Orleans who gets wrapped up in way too many drugs. Let me be frank - I underestimated Herzog, as I was expecting this to be utter trash, but it was almost the complete opposite. It was impressively well-made and actually quite amusing to watch, thanks to Nicolas Cage's fully overboard and wacko performance.
The actual story in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a little bit muddled. Essentially, Detective Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) hurts his back and must take painkillers, which opens the floodgates for him to eventually dive into the world of crack, cocaine, and marijuana (consumed in copious amounts). It begins with the murder of five African immigrants and the ensuing investigation, which leads him on an adventure through the New Orleans drug underworld. The story, considering it's not the strongest aspect of this, isn't anything I really cared that much about, but that didn't hurt my enjoyment of the actual film itself.
What makes this film so great, or at least so damn entertaining, is Cage's insane performance. His snappy responses to anything said to him, his doesn't-take-shit-from-anyone attitude, and his tendency to steal drugs from anyone and everywhere, is just hilarious to watch. And I'm not talking about it being so funny because it's bad, Cage is actually playing it for laughs. If you don't get that as the audience seeing this, you're definitely missing out on the entire point of it. Bad Lieutenant is one of those B-movies that you watch with a group of friends who are high or drunk, as it's not cinematic brilliance, but it is pretty damn good fun.
Although I've been praising this, there are some negative parts. The opening and ending really don't play well (and were coincidentally added by Herzog himself, as they weren't in William M. Finkelstein's script). There were also some "experimental" scenes where Herzog included extreme close-up shots of alligators and iguanas just for the hell of it, not for any sane reason. Herzog is sometimes crazy and this is definitely a film made at the height of his madness, but it's still considerably well-made and entertaining for the most part.
Telluride Rating: 7 out of 10