This Werner Herzog directed film features Nicolas Cage playing the titular cop on the edge, a detective with the New Orleans Police Department who, thanks to chronic back pain, has found himself lumbered with a serious addiction to prescription pain killers and anything else he can get his hands on. He also seems quite happy to sexually exploit random members of the public, especially if he can also shake them down for drøgs to fuel his habit.
The film does not just follow the lieutenant as he aimlessly trawls through the crescent city trying to sate his appetites. Instead, he finds himself investigating a rather nasty gang-related murder case. In broad terms, the plot follows a police-procedural trajectory, except that the cop at the centre of the case is a raving lunatic (c.f. when the cops are on a stake-out and he starts complaining about all the iguanas running around them, to quizzical stares from his colleagues, or when he interrupts his high class prostitute girlfriend's work saying "Have you got any coke left? I took what I thought was cocaine but it turned out to be heroin, and I'm due at work in half an hour"; why is my life not more like this?) At the same time, he is conflicted – he seems determined to hunt down the murderers, and away from his struggles with his own dark urges he is capable of real tenderness and warm human interaction.
Nicolas Cage's performance here has been justly praised – suddenly we have been given back underground film actor Cage, a man whose presence in a film marked it out as having a certain eccentric quality. Top marks. But Herzog also extracts great performances from the other principals. I was particularly struck by comic genius Jennifer Coolidge in a rare straight rule as the cop's father's drink sodden wife, but they are all great. At the same time, the real star here is Werner Herzog himself.
And finally, what is the link between this film and Abel Ferrara's banned-in-Ireland Bad Lieutenant? From something I read Herzog saying, it seems like the studio had brought out Ferrara's film, owning the name, and they reckoned that throwing a similar title onto Herzog's own film about an out-control-cop would generate a bit of media buzz. Which, I suppose, it has. I find myself wondering now whether there could a series of Bad Lieutenant films, all made by different film auteurs. This could be the future of cinema – I'm really looking forward to the Tarantino, Coen Brothers, and Merchant-Ivory versions.
One final thought – the bad lieutenant's more bestial behaviour is arguably driven by his trouble with back pain. Yet I myself am, as I write, suffering from (admittedly mild) back pain and am self medicating with a dangerous booze cocktail*. Now, is there any danger that I could turn into some kind of crazed maniac? Is there any possibility of Werner Herzog making a film about me called something like Bad Civil Servant – Port of Call Kildare Street?
* But don't worry guys, I can handle it… I'm not drinking vodka out of saucers yet.
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