Directed by: Werner Herzog
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer
After drugs become as important a part of his life as his profession, the newly-promoted Lieutenant Terence McDonagh finds himself at the head of an investigation centering around the murder of five Senegalese immigrants. Seemingly untouchable by just about everybody including his peers, McDonagh stops at nothing to bring the suspected perpetrators to justice… just as long as he can get his fix along the way. The path he’s chosen however isn’t an easy one to follow; a fact the Lieutenant unfortunately has to learn the hard way.
Oft times with certain types of cinema, we’re offered insight pertaining to how nothing good can ever come of succumbing to one’s own vices. On the contrary, Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant introduces us to a character that’s as committed to his job as he is to supporting his out-of-control drug habit. In a sense, the film’s title almost belies itself as Cage’s Terence McDonagh patrols the streets of New Orleans with enough ferocity to scare even the most hardened criminals half to death. This demeanor can most likely be attributed to excessive drug use and a short fuse, certainly, but despite these flaws, the Lieutenant manages keep the ball rolling whenever anyone else seems the least bit unsure of themselves, thus keeping the relatively thin narrative chugging along at a reasonable pace.
While Bad Lieutenant does possess an unsubstantial and sometimes absurd narrative littered with strange occurrences, the film’s hard-hitting subject matter coupled with Herzog’s spot-on direction make the film enjoyable as can be. That is, until the film begins to enter its final act, where events seem to play themselves out in a frenetic fashion in an attempt to give us some semblance of closure for our drug-addled anti-hero. Unfortunately, the film’s conclusion ends up feeling a tad rushed, and the aforementioned events come off as just plain unnecessary by way of relieving the appealing air of tension reigning over Bad Lieutenant‘s more poignant sequences.
Cage, of course, absolutely steals the show as the central character, providing us with a portrayal that comes off as more of a caricature of a particular individual rather than that of a real person. While such a detail should turn any number of viewers off otherwise, his efforts coincide wonderfully with the increasingly bizarre situations he finds himself in. As a matter of fact, no one really holds a candle to Cage in this regard, with the exception of Kilmer regardless of a superfluous lack of screen time. Oh, and for those who care, Xzibit’s in it.
In summary, Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant revels in both copious amounts of absurdity and unpredictability. While characters similar to Cage’s are generally regarded as degenerate lowlifes, his portrayal of Lieutenant Terence McDonagh is one for the ages, without a doubt, and makes one wonder once again why he constantly subjects himself to some seriously laughable career choices. Despite a sometimes lackluster narrative and a few performances that pale in comparison to the man himself, Bad Lieutenant benefits from some spot-on direction and an appropriate gritty feel that most definitely help it stand out amongst a slew of contenders.