Bad Lieutenant is not your average warm and fuzzy corrupt cop drama

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Tobey Veenstra

The Broadside

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Those expecting a good-old tale of corrupt cops from “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” starring Nicolas Cage, will be disappointed, but not as much as they will be confused, bewildered and probably feeling a little corrupt themselves.

The film may look like your run-of-the-mill cop drama but it couldn’t be farther from that. Taking place in New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the film follows the drug-addicted, unstable, and recently promoted-to-lieutenant Terence McDonagh (Cage) as he tries to take the law into his own hands. But in the ravaged New Orleans the law is a slick and slippery concept and Terence loses his grip on it many times.

Bad Lieutenant was directed by Werner “that-German-director-who-once-got-shot-by-an-unknown-individual-during-an-interview-but-still-managed-to-finish-the-interview-anyways-oh-and-also-lost-a-bet-and-as-consequence-had-to-cook-and-publicly-eat-his-own-shoe” Herzog. It features his trademark creeping pace which helps wash that vile, corrupted feeling over its audience with ease.

There are usually two models to choose from for corrupt-cop dramas. Either the cop starts out as a good cop but then one bad thing leads to another and he is a repenting, ruined mess by the end, or the cop starts out corrupt, battles his inner demons, and then finds redemption by the end. This film uses neither model. This is a linear-corrupt-cop drama. Terence never starts out good or finds redemption, but practices equal, yet wildly different acts of corruption from beginning to end. He’s that guy who gets away with everything, and therefore never repents or redeems himself.

And this works well in the New Orleans setting–those most likely to succeed in this devastated city are those who function at their highest around elevated levels of sleaze and crime. Cage is at his best in this role, playing this type of character so over-the-top and fearless that he makes Lady Gaga look like iCarly. Perhaps this an apology from Cage to his fans who sat through those treasure-seeking Disney movies.

The film co-stars Eva Mendes as Frankie, Terence‘s prostitute girlfriend, and Val Kilmer as his partner. Mendes and Cage have as good a chemistry as any corrupt cop and his prostitute girlfriend could have, entering a sort of dazed state whenever they are together induced by love and cocaine/painkiller combos. Particularly touching is one scene where Terence reminisces to Frankie about a spoon he found and treasured while playing pirates by himself as a child in his backyard.

Other notable scenes include any showing Terence’s coke hallucinations, whether it be iguanas on his coffee table, or the breakdancing ghost of a murdered criminal.

While there was a film titled “Bad Lieutenant,” released in 1992, starring Harvey Keitel, and this film has been advertised as a remake/sequel of that, the only thing the two have in common is a corrupt policeman as the main character. Herzog himself said he hasn’t even seen the original and just regards the title as a sort of mistake.

This film also follows an important Nicolas Cage film correlation rule. The lower the budget, the better Cage’s acting is in the film. This film had a relatively low budget for a cop drama, and Cage is outstanding in it. Although the same can’t be said for the Cage’s hair-to-movie quality correlation, because his hair is godawful in this and the film itself is a work of art.

You may contact Tobey Veenstra at tveenstra@cocc.edu

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