The big surprise coming out of Werner Herzog’s slight remix of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 cult film, is that its leading man Nicholas Cage who actually stamps his mark on proceedings, and in doing so out shines the German mad man and now Hollywood prankster.
Set in New Orleans the black comedy, with a pulp feel to it sees Cage as drug addicted cop Terence McDonagh who along with hard nut partner Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) likes to stretch the rules as far as possible to crack a crime. As well as the trouble he has keeping it together at work, in his personal life he is seeing sweet natured, if naive prostitute Frankie (Eva Mendes) who is constantly dragging Terence into dodgy situations, the irony being he causes more problems than Frankie. A turning point comes after the murder of a group of Senegalese immigrants gives McDonagh a moral purpose.
Finding the part to pick his flounding career out of the ditch, Cage injects a lethal poison into the part of the conflicted, but ultimately deranged cop. The volume is turned up to eleven, the facial ticks sweaty, and unpredictable, and his body movements meticulous. Attention to detail is spot on, for example early in the film, our man picks up a back injury, and carries on the job regardless, and Cage sells this brilliantly, walking around in a certain crouched down manner. Picking up from his roles in such favourites as Wild at Heart and Leaving Las Vegas the star totally dominates the screen, and had me hanging on his every word. This is a sad reminder than on his day Cage can match a true great like Brando, but is too interested in fame or playing it safe.
This is not just a reboot of the Ferrara version which is much bleaker in tone, and sees the Harvey Keitel cop go on a much more vivid journey of redemption (here Cage isn’t that evil to begin with, just morally confused), the problem is it’s not enough of a Werner Herzog film.
We do get the view of the world from a few of New Orleans wild creatures, these trippy scenes reminding us of the filmmaker’s love for putting his stars out in nature and questioning just who the real beasts are. However those moments are few and far between and we are left, with a fairly exciting, slick, but slightly empty experience where Cage is the only character of any note. A missed opportunity for me was in Terence and Frankie’s relationship which seemed to be building to something a little more substantial, before being let down. The fact Eva Mendes was almost given a chance to shine, but instead was labelled in a ditzy, quirky role suggests to me that maybe Herzog doesn’t actually know how to create a strong female part. There is however a glorious cameo for Brad Dourif as McDonagh’s cranky bookie.
The message here is very different to the other Bad Lieutenant, that film says that even the most evil of sprits can be redeemed, just after going to hell and back, this time we are told that no matter how bad a cop is, he or she can always twist the law, and use a corrupt system to come out the other end in a even higher position. It’s food for thought, but doesn’t really cover any new ground, and if you are a Herzog regular you might want to give it a miss.
Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer
Runtime: 122 min