Monday, 31 May 2010

Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant (2009) perhaps marks a point of transition for the German filmmaker from a magico-realist European phase to a mainstream-Hollywood American phase. Kudos to the director for nabbing Val Kilmer to play second-fiddle policeman Stevie Pruit.

For marquee actor Nicholas Cage, this film can do no harm at all, although I estimate it's not as good as the 1992 original with the same title, the one that was directed by American Abel Ferrara.

Cage plays a crooked cop with a back injury sustained when he saved a prisoner caged in the basement of an inundated New Orleans lock-up during Hurricane Katrina. The pain pushes Terence McDonagh into the relaxing and beguiling arms of illegal substances, a habit he shares with girlfriend and call-girl Frankie Donnenfeld (played by Eva Mendes).

The drug-use causes McDonagh to do stuff a good cop shouldn't do. This includes raiding the police station's property room, harassing rich kids on their way out of discos, and pocketing any stray plastic bag he discovers while out on the streets on duty. And his gambling gets him into trouble, too, eventually pushing him into joining forces with a prominent drug dealer he had been investigating as part of a quintuple-murder probe.

McDonagh stumbles through his dizzy life of petty crime and strung-out highs with a certain quotient of manly aplomb, although we feel our frustration growing as things eventually go from bad to worse. And this is where Cage's considerable talents come into play. It would have been so easy to play this too hard, too chipper. Cage maintains a certain slovenly dignity - aided of course by the director - despite his numerous inadvertent slip-ups and aggressive misdemeanours.

A low point is reached when an internal investigation team bundle Terence up at his father's substantial but run-down rural mansion, and promise in no uncertain terms to end his promising career.

There's no need to spoil the movie for those who haven't seen it. Suffice it to say, the good things about McDonagh - especially his rich and heartfelt relationship with Donnenfeld - seem to serve to carry him through a series of damaging rencontres with the law and the lawless alike.

But this is certainly not Herzog's best film. For those with a taste for hardboiled American police drama, however, this neat film will satisfy.

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