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Bad Lieutenant review

by Andy Gibbons

What is it?

Werner Herzog’s variation on Abel Ferrara’s controversial 1992 movie about a corrupt cop whose various addictions are de-railing his life.

Nicolas Cage stars as New Orleans cop Terence McDonagh who, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is left battling a debilitating back injury. He gets through the pain thanks to some less-than-legal substances pinched from police evidence, which he shares with his high-class hooker girlfriend (Eva Mendes) but when that source runs out, he starts shaking down small time dealers just to score a hit. However when he’s called on to investigate the murders of a family of five, his drug use starts to spiral and Terence becomes more and more unpredictable.

What’s good?

Cage is at his psychotic and unhinged best after some disappointing recent performances and perfectly pitches McDonagh’s descent into his own personal hell as Mendes lends what could be an all-too-bleak movie a bit of heart. Herzog also makes great use of New Orleans as a backdrop, capitalising on the city’s desolate post-Katrina landscape while signposting Terence’s deteriorating mental state with some well-placed Iguanas and break-dancing souls. Finally Mark Isham’s atmospheric score proves the perfect accompaniment to such an off kilter film. 


What’s bad?

Not a lot really. I think it’s fair to say that Bad Lieutenant isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste given it deals extensively with drugs, gambling, prostitution, violence and police corruption. But it seem to me that this version is significantly less shocking that the 1992 original but perhaps that’s because Herzog has avoided the religious overtones that Ferrara wholeheartedly embraced.

So basically…..

It goes without saying that Bad Lieutenant is one of the stranger films you’ll see this year. Herzog isn’t known for his conventionality and he doesn’t exactly play by the rules here, mixing standard narrative footage with McDonagh’s drug-addled visions to great effect and he’s certainly managed to get the best out of Cage, which is no mean feat given Nic’s recent track record (Knowing anyone?). Combine this with a sizzlingly vicious (at times) script and plenty of black humour and you’re on to a winner. If you like movies that are somewhat off the beaten track yet highly entertaining then you should find Bad Lieutenant pretty arresting.


Bad Lieutenant is in cinemas from May 21st.


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