Posted December 1, 2009 by William Dunmyer in Uncategorized

Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Second-Rate Drama with Some Unique Qualities

Werner Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant,” set in post-Katrina New Orleans, is an unusual cross between Brian De Palma and Tennessee Williams. My advice is to stay with the film to the end. It’s over-long (two hours), but the last 20 minutes are worth waiting for. But as valuable and unique as the ending is, there’s no mistaking that this is a minor work.

Like De Palma and Williams at their worst, “Bad Lieutenant” occasionally goes so over the top that you begin to laugh at it. The under-statement at the end rescues the film, but only to a degree. It is just too ridiculous to imagine a police force tolerating a detective being constantly sky-high on drugs and breaking laws in broad daylight over and over. At one point, the detective hallucinates in front of his entire team, and no one bats an eye. I certainly don’t believe that films need to stay within the bounds of realism. I am one of surrealism’s biggest champions, in fact. But Herzog’s version of it here only intermittently worked for me. It didn’t so much seem like good surrealism as bad realism.

Nicolas Cage plays a cop with a painful spinal condition that deforms him and causes his fondness for drugs to get much worse. When he’s not loaded up on Vicodin, he’s shoving everything but the kitchen sink up his nose. His prostitute girlfriend (played sweetly but flatly by Eva Mendes) does the same. The plot centers around an execution-style murder of an entire family of Africans, a crime that the detective is determined to solve. –unfinished

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.