“Till The Break ‘a Dawn, Baby!” Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
*WARNING! Contains spoilers, and a man hitting an Iguana on the backside*
I have a great deal of love for Werner Herzog. The lengths he goes to in his film making process and the mad bastards he has had to deal with over the years demands respect. No one can make a film quite like Herzog. He has this way of focusing on tiny details and turning them into something else. Taking the ordinary and making it unusual, yet taking the ridiculous, the strange and the weird, then making it seem perfectly normal. With his documentary features he finds the hidden depths beneath the surface of the everyday, pulling out beauty, tragedy, humour – adding his own touch and that great voice.
Having full bias where Herzog is concerned, I wanted Bad Lieutenant to be something special. It’s strange though, because were it not for the crocodile-eye view, those iguanas and the break-dancing ghost, on first viewing I all but forgot about Werner Herzog. The blame for this lies fully with Nicolas Cage.
Okay, the role of a drug-addict police lieutenant Terence McDonough – who steals his stash from the evidence vaults and uses his badge for free coke and blow jobs – is great material to start with, but Cage knocks it out of the park. He is the personification of fucked-up. Twitchy and mad-eyed, he could have easily strayed into the realms of parody, but he nails the mannerisms and gait of an addict perfectly. Even though his shambling walk in that baggy-ass suit is hilarious, the pain in his facial expressions is pretty tragic. Poor bastard. I don’t know, try to help someone and you end up with battered vertebrae. Not fair, is it?
Things go from bad to worse for McDonough when cameras are installed in the evidence vaults and his gambling gets out of hand. A drug shortage plus money worries doesn’t make for the best of situations. Throw in messing with the wrong guys, dealing with his prostitute girlfriend’s dickhead clients, protecting a murder witness, having to look after his alcoholic dad’s dog, blackmailing a sports star, the odd hallucination – and before you know it McDonough is hiding behind doors and terrorising old ladies quicker than you can say “crack pipe.” It’s all going down the shitter for him. Big style.
In return for drugs, McDonough tips off local drug dealer and main target in his current murder case – ‘Big Fate’ – to hits, busts and opportunities. In a crack-high moment of genius, McDonough hits on an idea to solve at least one of his problems, but not before Big Fate inadvertently solves another.
From then on in, it does seem that all the loose ends are tied up a little too quickly. Well, they’re pretty much all tied up with one scene. When the film cuts to McDonough getting promoted in front of a pregnant girlfriend, sober dad and cleaned up stepmother, you could be forgiven for shouting “Don’t you fucking dare give me this shit, Herzog. I don’t want no happy ending.” You don’t want everyone to be perfect model citizens all of a sudden. Worry not though, all of those fears are put to rest when McDonough takes a quick trip past the nightclubs for a bit of badge-flaunting, drug stealing and ‘suck my dick or it’s a night in the cells for you.’
I never expected to laugh as much as I did during Bad Lieutenant. From the crack-addled wheezing and bizarre behaviour with the Big Fate crew to Cage smiling behind those imaginary lizards, it had me pissing myself at points. Never expected that from a Herzog number. It is genuinely very funny. Maybe I’m pushing it by finding the scene in the nursing home amusing, but the angle of Cage’s body when the door closes to reveal his crazy-face staring had me roaring.
So strangely, Bad Lieutenant sits as one of the most wonderfully insane films I’ve seen this year. It has shoved some other Herzog favourites a little down the list, and assured me that Nicolas Cage can easily return to the realm of legendary status. He just needs to play a mad bastard.
One thing I don’t quite get.
I know he had Eva Mendez on tap, but crikey – why the hell would he turn down Fairuza Balk?