Bad Lieutenant – Port Of Call: New Orleans
To misquote Public Enemy: ‘Don’t believe the hype – it’s not a sequel’ The perverse genius that is Werner Herzog may be the only man unhinged enough to remake Abel Ferrara’s sordid, Catholic guilt-heavy, masturbatory, drug fringed fusion of the dirty cop flick and Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, but this is not that.
Despite his attempts to hide it, Herzog is, at heart, a German classicist and Bad Lieutenant draws more from Goethe’s Faust than it does from Ferrara’s grim deterministic policier. Part closet drama, part nihilistic freefall drama and part mythological and philosophical musing (unlike most, Herzog does not ignore Goethe’s little read second part of the tragedy), Herzog’s film may as well have taken its name from the river dominated German town of Bad Kreuznach, the marriage place of Karl Marx and one of the many alleged homes to the alchemist upon whom the fictional Faust was based.
New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: police sergeant Terence McDonagh (Nic Cage, fantastic) saves a drowning prisoner from the waterlogged police station. The act earns him a promotion and a back injury. Addiction follows as McDonagh bullies drugs out of anyone he can, any way he can. There’s also his junkie prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes) and recovering alcoholic dad to keep happy, to say nothing of his bookie. As things spiral out of control, a kind of phase space trajectory takes over – momentum and perception change and nothing goes the way one might expect.
For reasons too numerous go into here, Herzog is arguably the most brilliant of all living filmmakers, and with Bad Lieutenant he appears to bring together both the delinquent and satirical strains in his work. McDonagh is an intuitive but deeply corrupt cop acting with all the freedoms that disaster zone capitalism allows. As New Orleans is reconstructed as a rich man’s paradise, he gets high. His idea of law enforcement is to arrest anyone who can’t supply him and yet fate proves quirky indeed. There’s a humorous, obdurate and deviant strain running through the procedural thriller structure, and as always with Herzog, it’s an odd, unsettling film, one riven by Cage’s phenomenal central performance. Repeated viewing is necessary, cult status is guaranteed. In the words of McDonagh: ‘To the break of dawn. To the break of dawn, baby.’
General release from Fri 21 May.