Friday, June 15, 2012


Shoot him again...his soul is still dancing - Nicholas Cage

By now you should all get the general idea of what a "Misunderstood Masterpiece" is by the movies I've covered so far. They're movies with ridiculous sounding plots like; Trouble Everyday (a horror/drama/psychological thriller about an unnamed disease that gives people killer libidos) & Demonlover (an erotic espionage thriller about the deadly, backstabbing underworld of animated pornography), or remakes/loose adaptations of classic films like Solaris and Ghost Dog (a loose remake of Le Samourai) that all received undeserved amounts of hate upon their initial release but are slowly starting to get the recognition they deserve for being strangely brilliant. These are the kinda films that follow in the footsteps of Maverick filmmakers like Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg. The kinda of movies where some type of a drug (strong marijuana at the very least) played a role in the development of the script or at least the basic concept. The kinda movies where you have to say; "ACTUALLY, I liked that movie a lot." Those movies that get 20% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and bad reviews, but 10-20 years later they're in some kind of a retrospective at the Moma, Lincoln Center or Film Forum.
I can’t think of any other recent film that fits the above criteria more than Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans...

Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (a loose remake of Abel Ferrara's 1992 indie masterpiece) has become that movie where people have to start defending it before they even finish saying how much they liked it. It’s that movie where you have to start talking about it with a preface like; "I know you're not gonna believe me when I say I like this, but just hear me out..." What’s also interesting is that in the last decade or so Bad Lieutenant has been one of the FEW great (yes, great) films that Herzog has put out along with The Wild Blue Yonder and Grizzly Man. Rescue Dawn teetered between being bad and pointless (I don’t care how dedicated or how much weight Christian Bale lost for his role), Into The Abyss was a disappointing and almost disrespectful documentary that showed Herzog acting all buddy-buddy with sociopathic murderers and not even Michael Shannon's presence could save My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done (probably one of Herzog's worst films ever, which is sad because it had an amazing ensemble cast). It goes without saying that Nicolas Cage and remakes aren’t a good combination. And I'm not just saying this because making fun of Cage's recent cocaine & pills-fueled performances have become the "in" thing to do these days. I'm actually a fan of Nicolas Cage from time to time when he delivers performances like he did in Adaptation, Red Rock West or Wild At Heart. But with remakes like City Of Angels (a remake of Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire), The Wicker Man (a remake of the cult classic), Kiss Of Death and Bangkok Dangerous (a remake of a famous Thai action film), history has clearly shown that Cage is poison to a remake. Just doing a remake alone is an uphill battle from the start since 10 time outta 10 you're gonna get naysayers and diehard fans of the original hating on it before it even comes out. I went in to Bad Lieutenant expecting to see an epic disaster so bad that it would be entertaining but to my surprise it turned out to be one of my favorites of 2009. And I knew I wasn’t crazy because by the end of the year I saw Bad Lieutenant on the top 10 & 20 lists of everyone from Roger Ebert to various writers & contributors to magazines like Film Comment and Cahier Du Cinema (I know that just because some highly decorated film critics like something doesn’t automatically make a movie great, but it still means something). Most people who end up seeing Herzog's remake are usually in disbelief at how good it was and the few people that hated it still end up talking about it. Next to Bad Lieutenant I can’t think of too many other films in the last 5 years that have gotten me into heated debates/arguments/conversations about everything from the current state of cinema to racism and police brutality.

Werner Herzog doesn’t strike me as someone who needs to take drugs to make something that’s strange and far out. He's just a naturally unique and quietly quirky human being where "strange" just comes naturally to him. But I’m sorry, he must have taken some peyote or mysterious herbal drug while coming up with the idea to remake Bad Lieutenant, which he claims he never actually saw (sounds like bullshit to me, but whatever). And the more I think about it no other actor could portray the role Nicolas Cage played because when you think about it, his real life kinda runs parallel to the character he plays in Bad Lieutenant. In the film detective Terrence Mcdonagh was a once promising police officer but years of drug abuse, gambling, corruption and a crippling back injury are catching up to him while he's working on a gruesome murder case (an immigrant family has been murdered by a local drug kingpin). In real life, Nicolas Cage was an A-list actor (I guess he still kinda is) but years of bad movie choices and bankruptcy have forced him to act in just about any movie that comes his way so he can make money to get himself outta debt. The basic plot of Herzog's Bad Lieutenant is pretty similar to the original: both films are about a corrupt, out of control, drug & gambling addicted police officer who's life is spiraling out of control. But at the same time Herzog takes a few liberties and changes some stuff around. In this version our main character has a partner (Val Kilmer), its set in New Orleans during the aftermath of Katrina (the original is set in New York City), there’s no outright religious symbolism (a staple in Ferrara’s work) and we get more of a glimpse in to the main characters' love life (Eva Mendes). And even though Keitel’s performance is WAY better than Cage's, Cage seems more likeable (even when he points a gun at the head of an old lady). Throughout the film Cage's character is suffering from a permanent back injury and he does an amazing job at making it believable. You grunt and squint along with Cage as he hobbles through the film or strains to stand up. He's the kinda antihero you don’t actually want to be or emulate. You just wanna watch him from a distance. He's like a fascinating train wreck. And no matter how corrupt and fucked up Cage is at no point in the film did I laugh WITH him or think he was cool. Throughout the entire film I’m laughing at him as Bad Lieutenant is essentially about someone who thinks their above the law but in reality they're on a downward destructive path that’s so unbelievable all you can do is laugh in disbelief as we watch him accidentally snort heroine instead of cocaine just before he has to go to work, steal police evidence, blackmail college athletes to throw games he's betting on or wear his gun inside his belt instead of a holster because he thinks he's some kind of a cowboy. Bad Lieutenant is pure insanity. Herzog once again captures the egomaniac, alpha white male who goes too far when trying to abuse power reminiscent of so many roles that Klaus Kinski played under his direction (Cobra Verde, Fitzcaraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God). Herzog even puts a little of himself into Cage’s character. Some of the lines in the film like “Do fish have dreams?” and “his soul is still dancing” are quotes and questions from the book “Herzog on Herzog”.

Bad Lieutenant has what seems like intentionally over the top moments that kinda come out of a comic book (the dramatic music, the reactions of some of the actors to certain situations and pretty much the last ten minutes). On the surface this seemed like an odd choice for Herzog that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of his filmography. As far as the cinematography goes this may be his most polished-looking work to date. In fact, after the release of Bad Lieutenant there was a great book of stills taken by Herzog's wife that got published. But at the same time there's many Herzog-like elements to Bad Lieutenant outside of Cage's insane Kinski-inspired lead performance like randomly beautiful scenes involving iguanas and crocodiles (as we all know Herzog loves animals and nature), odd musical choices reminiscent of the dancing chicken scene from Stroszek and Herzog's fascination with people from the continent of Africa. Bad Lieutenant also features an eclectic supporting cast of actors like Brad Douriff, Michael Shannon, actor/director Vondie Curtis Hall, Xzibit, Faruza Baulk and Shea Whingham who has probably my favorite scene in the movie (see below). Don’t judge this until you've actually seen it because chance are you'll be pleasantly surprised.


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