Nicolas Cage burns up the screen in Herzog's hi-octane remake
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans
Cert: 18, 122 mins
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes
In Werner Herzog‘s Bad Lieutenant, Nicolas Cage‘s Detective Terence McDonagh gets up to the following mischief. He steals naked pics of a colleague’s wife. He ingests so much cocaine that, collected together, he could be water-boarded in it, let alone overdose on it. He gets a rock-hit from a crack pipe from a girl who’s forced to have sex with him in front of her boyfriend. He bribes football players. He plunges into thousands of dollars in debt. He becomes embroiled with the mafia, in cahoots with hoodlums, dates a hooker
(Mendes), plants evidence, steals evidence, flouts every law. At one point, he removes the oxygen tube from an old lady he doesn’t want to question, in order to get an old lady he does want to question to talk. Then he pulls a gun on her and calls her a cunt.
It’s shameless, repellent, amoral, and wrong. I loved it.
Technically, this is Herzog‘s “remake” of Abel Ferrara‘s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant, starring Harvey Keitel. But where that film felt weighted and mired in the Catholic guilt of its anti-hero’s antics, tied down to the idea of redemption from it, this is freewheeling, excitable, kinetic – a roller-coaster ride of debauchery as the camera hugs Cage‘s hunched shoulders close, following him as he barrels through a post-Katrina New Orleans (the original was set in New York) embarking on his one noble cause: solving the brutal slayings of house full of drug-trade interlopers by the local drug kingpin.
Herzog‘s “remake” doesn’t have the depth or anguish of Ferrara‘s film – but has a lighter swipe at morality: it takes us along for the ride, shows us how exciting the drugs and the power and the corruption can be – like Martin Amis‘ Money or Anthony Burgess‘ A Clockwork Orange, how thrilling and fun – before letting us watch it all unravel.
You have to wonder what it says about Cage that two of his best roles – this and Leaving Las Vegas, where he played a man the edge drinking himself to death, winning an Oscar for his trouble – have seen him play jittery maniacs fuelled by drink and drugs and sex – but it’s a great display.
If anything, you could argue Herzog goes too far – too far in cheerleading Cage‘s charector, too far in making him seem invulnerable (despite the scrapes he gets in, Cage rarely feels in real danger), too far in taking us into his drug-fueled sleepless mind of reptiles and the break-dancing souls of dead men. Too, in short, nuts.
But then Herzog has always been a director fascinated with the limits of human endurance, from 1982’s Fitzcarraldo, where a man tried to take a steam-boat over a mountain, to 2007’s Christian Bale-starring Rescue Dawn, about a fighter pilot shot down in the jungle. This is just him pushing a man – and pushing Cage the actor – as far as he can go. There’s always a breaking point.