Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Last night I went to the local arthouse (Robinson Film Center in Shreveport, LA) to see this new film, and honestly I didn't know what to expect.  I knew it was directed by one of the most famous German directors in the history of film, Werner Herzog.  And I knew that it was somewhat of a loose extension of an earlier, "cult" film (simply Bad Lieutenant) starring Harvey Keitel.  But that was about all I knew.

Well, all this to say, I really enjoyed it.  If you're familiar with Herzog's previous work, it certainly feels like HIS film.  It's absurd, zany, and perhaps even messy, but all in an artful and emotionally complex way. Somehow, Herzog is able to perserve the spirit of the original film while taking it somewhere that is altogether new and different.

Highlights for me include a truly wonderful Nicolas Cage performance and a fantastic score by veteran composer, Mark Isham.  More than anything though, it's the film's energy that really grabbed me.  Often times, the film ventures into places that are incredulous, confusing, even awesomely bizarre, but because it does it all with absolute conviction (think Ian Curtis dancing), it never managed to lose me.  

I usually champion films that approach the crime genre straight, not in an ironic way.  But here Herzog's treatment is so contagious that I can't help but mention it.  In many ways, it reminds me of David Cronenberg's two recent entries (History of Violence and Eastern Promises) into the genre.  It makes me realize that it's these sort of things, great directors working with new genres, that help keep them fresh and alive.  After last night, I would be more than thrilled to see Herzog make another crime film.


  1. It plays in St. Louis beginning this Friday and I'm definately making a point to see it. Love Herzog (personal favorite is Aguirre), but have never had the pleasure of seeing a film of his in theaters. Even when both Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World played near my local indepdendent theaters AND when Rescue Dawn got its wide domestic release!

  2. Hey, Adam, I'll be interested to hear how your experience with the film is. I really enjoyed it and hope you will, too.

  3. I'm delighted to read this great reaction on this stylish Herzog confection. It could be argued that the essence of the film is a rather pedestrian and time-worn police procedural, with plot points that mirror television shows with the usual criminal investigations, and that it might seem at times that this is really the central focus. But Herzog’s apparently deliberate caveat of making the story almost self-parody with Terrence’s wildly erratic behavior, and his becoming an on-screen lizard, don’t allow for neither narrative fidelity to normal resolution nor societal justice, instead offering up a most unlikely final scenario that includes a strain of “probability.” Near the beginning of the film, we see a sinuous snake slithering along, establishing the metaphorical connection with the ‘Bliss of Evil’ Terrence mentioned. Of course, Herzog has long had the talent of transforming the most normal of situations into the bizarre, and Cage’s Terrence is one of his greatest creations, certainly comparable to the immoral character played by Klaus Kinski in Aguire the Wrath of God. If the mythological aspects of Aguire are not encored here, at least the bizarre character instabilities are with the showcase descent into madness, and the obsessive personalities. One could obviously add the lead in Grizzly Man and Fitzcaraldo to that mix. Nicholas Cage is a perfect match here for Herzog by way of sensibilities, and I agree with you completely on the effectiveness of Isham's score.

  4. Sam, thanks so much for your excellent comments!

    I couldn't agree more with you, and particularly here, "Herzog's apparently deliberate caveat of making the story almost self-parody..." At times, and particularly as he starts to introduce elements of a happy ending, I could almost feel Herzog holding these things up and showing us how time-worn and silly they are.

    What I think I liked so much though (and what really seems like their genius to me here) is that it is a parody YET Cage and Herzog still made me really care. Usually with these kinds of movies, I enjoy them, but I don't really feel that much. It all seems like a joke anyway. Here, however, Herzog and Cage brought a real humanity (some way somehow) to the proceedings, and I truly cared what happened to the Lieutenant.

    Thanks again, Sam! I found it to be an extremely interesting watch.

  5. Fortunately I was able to catch this film earlier tonight- as this was the last day it was playing in St. Louis. So glad I made the effort; it's one of my top favorites of 2009.

    It wasn't until I got home when I actually started thinking about the optimism of the ending. Not typical for Herzog. But Cage leaning up against the aquarium chuckling sort of reminds me of Kinski smoking the cigar (with the goofy grin on his face) at the end of Fitzcarraldo. Usually Herzog's protagonists find their dreams dashed in the end. Refreshingly, that's not the case here.

  6. Adam, so glad you got to see this one! Like you, I was caught off guard and pleasantly surprised by it. I completely agree that the ending was somewhat atypical for Herzog although I must say it was probably my least favorite part of the film. I just didn't quite feel it the way I did the rest of the film.

    But, I really liked this one and am glad to hear it spoke to you, as well!