Werner Herzog’s retelling of Abel Ferrera’s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant is not an easy watch. It contains graphic depictions of drug abuse, ugly scenes of cruelty and torture and ambiguous, but still distressing, scenes of potential sexual assault. It also has a script that’s far from sophisticated and direction as crazy as its subject matter. But it is also one of the most interesting and memorably effective films of 2009, and features a knockout performance from the usually terrible Nicholas Cage.
Although he tried desperately to convince audiences he has little or no acting talent with past projects such as the National Treasure movies or the preposterous Australian sci-fi flick Knowing, here he gives a multilayered, excellently judged and totally believable portrayal of a man in his own personal hell.
He plays McDonagh, a New Orleans cop who damages his spine when trying to save a prisoner from the floods caused by Hurricane Katrina. Due to this moment of bravery, he now suffers from severe back-pain and has to take copious amounts of medication. But he moves on to harder substances; namely cocaine and heroin. He steals drugs off young women, and forces their teenage boyfriends to watch as they sexually pleasure him on the bonnet of his car. He is not a nice guy.
But he does have a better half in the form of prostitute Eva Mendes, his sort-of girlfriend, who inevitably becomes involved in a nasty case McDonagh is working on; the brutal murdering of a Senegalese immigrant family.
The film will repulse some and thrill others. But Herzog isn’t new to dividing audiences, and this picture may find a larger following as the years go by and it passes into cult status. Occasionally hilarious and madly unpredictable, this is no-limits cinema that doesn’t shy away from the weirder sides of human nature.
The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans (2010), is directed by Werner Herzog and distributed in the UK on Blu-ray disc and DVD from LIONSGATE, Certificate 18.