Archive for May 27th, 2010

The thing that really stood out about Abel Ferrara’s original “Bad Lieutenant” movie was an amazing performance from Harvey Keitel.  The same can be said of the remake the best thing about it is the central performance from Nicolas Cage.  He manages to find a balance between what he did in Leaving Las Vegas and Face Off. The result, this may well be Cage’s best ever performance.  Whilst the original worked as a character study of a man in the pits of despair and depravity looking for redemption the new movie takes a larger canvas charts the fall and rebirth of the charter, well kind of! One thing that should be made clear, this isn’t a remake. It has the same name and the same idea but it is a new story.  To use an analogy, if it were a song it would not be a cover version it would “be inspired by” or based on the same subject as an old song but using its own music and lyrics.

Set in New Orleans the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, a brief prologue shows how Terence McDonagh (Cage) injures his back, fast forward six months and he is given a promotion to the rank of Lieutenant, by this time heavily reliant on drugs, both prescription and illegal.  He is also a degenerate gambler on a season long losing streak.  Add to the mix, he is lead investigator on a horrific murder where an entire family has been executed.  He also has a high maintenance prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) who also has a drug habit.

Director Werner Herzog is well known for his use of long, lingering and gratuitous shots of landscapes and of animals either out of context or doing unusual things. We actually get both of these things, in some cases both at the same time, depending on your point of view they are either pointless and distracting or give an insight into McDonagh’s character. There is some trademark weirdness like the use of iguanas and alligators and the breakdancing soul of a recently shot man but ultimately this genre piece represents a more accessible side to the director.  However you look at the themes in the movie you can’t get away from the fact it is extremely well shot.  The editing takes a little getting used to as scenes appear to end suddenly leaving little gaps in the narrative. It is a neat trick that works well and helps hold the interest, had it not worked it could have made the movie feel disjointed or episodic.

The cast is full of recognisable faces, as well as Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes there is also former A lister Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Brad Dourif, Jennifer Coolidge and rapper Xzibit.  Whilst all are well cast and do a good job this is Cages film leaving me wondering why we don’t see more of this Nicolas Cage.  This performance is key to the success of the movie, as the movie unfolds his problems deepen and his solutions become more irrational, as the viewer I wanted him to find a way out.  When it comes McDonagh’s shot at some kind of redemption is so slight and subtle that its significance may be missed.  What speaks volumes for the movie as a character piece is routine nature but the far reaching effects of the story/life changing scenes.

The movie works on two levels, both a well made cop-thriller and character study; as such it is better than the original in the first respect but weaker in the second.  Overall I would say it is at least equal to and possibly superior to the original film.  It suffers a little bit on pace and could have taken a leaf out of Ferrara’s 90 something minute book.  The story is sometimes grim but it does offer hope and salvation and there are even some funny moments along the way

Four Stars out of Five

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