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5 live review: Bad Lieutenant

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Mark Kermode | 11:06 UK time, Monday, 24 May 2010

5 live's resident movie critic Dr Mark Kermode reviews Bad Lieutenant.

Go to Mark on 5 Live for more reviews and film debate.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I agree with much of what you've said about Herzog's Bad Lieutenant, but I did feel that there was something more going on than just a 'Nic Cage film' that just happened to be directed by Herzog.

    For me, this film was almost a kind of update on Herzog's earlier refutation of the 'American dream' in Stroszek, in which Bruno S. leaves the streets of Berlin behind for a new life in this mythical 'land of opportunity'. The idea of America as the 'land of the free, and the home of the brave' is central to both films, but whilst the earlier film painted the USA as a place of unfulfilled dreams and desperate disappointment, Bad Lieutenant paints a much darker picture - of a land that has forsaken its own people and its own honour for a misplaced faith in individual liberty and the hero myth.

    The fact that Cage's character, no matter how bad he is, continues to be help up as a 'hero' and continues to be promoted through the ranks of the police force, seems to be Herzog arguing against a preference for heroes above all else, including the 'good of the people'. Herzog's decision to relocate his remake in a New Orleans still visibly ravaged by Katrina half a decade on - a New Orleans left to stew, quite literally, in its own squalor - seems to underline this even further.

    Enjoying your work, as always,


  • Comment number 2.

    Dear Dr. K

    This review shows how clearly bias you can be! I have seen this movie and it is as you sometimes say: " ridiculous clap-trap!"

    If Michael Bay's name had been anywhere on the credits we would have got a rant of such power that another bullet would be headed for Herzog.

    Yet I must say that Dr.K was clearly trying to be as nice as pie about what is clearly a bad movie by any standards.

  • Comment number 3.

    I loved the movie. Absolutely reckless and wild filmmaking. And who knew screaming in the face of a lil' ol' lady could be so funny?

  • Comment number 4.

    This film will be an audience divider; I've wanted to see it since it got some early reviews last year. Left field, genre twisting and quite a few liking Cage's performance. Cage is probably an audience divider too, but at least here serving a better project than most of the cr@p he's done in the past ten years.

    Ecstatic truth? Perhaps Herzog now feels his documentaries convey that better than fiction e.g. "If you ever want to see into the deepest depths of human nature, into the abyss of our soul, just watch Grizzly Man.”

    Perhaps Herzog become more cynical with age; perhaps he just wants to have some fun with a story. Or perhaps 'ecstatic truth' is deeper, more complex. Herzog has said "ecstatic truth' is searching for truth beyond the facts and much deeper than facts".
    The last line in the film that Cage says is Herzog's, and its meaning will be debated for a while to come.

    It's also possible that Herzog does know Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant much better than he's letting on and an ecstatic-truth-free twist on the tale is a deliberate riposte to it.

    I guess people's opinions will be shaped by whether or not they've seen Ferrara's original. One thing it wasn't short of was a search for ecstatic truth; behind all the attention grabbing drugs, nudity and corruption it's an all-out Catholic morality tale. I wasn't the only one to see it this way btw, some Catholics take it very, very seriously. e.g. (contains spoilers)

    Explorations of Catholic guilt, torment, forgiveness and redemption aren't really my thing; Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant had to suffer torments and ultimately died (identifying himself with Christ's suffering) in order to achieve redemption.
    My overriding memory of Ferrara's BL is of it. a) being one of the most depressing films I've ever see and b) being religious bull too.

    Given I don't see Herzog believing that religion offers salvation and redemption some might enjoy his take on Bad Lieutenant more.
    At last, a remake that's not pointless.
    Once on DVD I think this will become the must see films of the year, love it or hate it.

  • Comment number 5.

    I was disappointed by the film, for reasons well voiced by the Dr. Herzog's version simply lacked the depth of Ferrara's brilliant original. You don't have to be Catholic (or even remotely Christian) to appreciate the theme of redemption in his film. The only redemption in Herzog's overall flat and rather pointless remake is Cage's reputation as an actor.

    Herzog's film would have been a lot more rewarding if it was shot in Iguana-vision from beginning to end. These brief reminders of what Herzog is otherwise capable of were the only scenes I really liked.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's pretty unfair to bring up Ferrara's film in a review for Port Call. You stated yourself that Herzog had not seen Ferrara's film and was not attempting to retool it; Herzog even fought to have the title of his film changed so that it wouldn't suffer by association. Outside of a few superficial similarities it is a completely different film with different merits and themes and should be treated as such.

    I do agree with a good portion of your review, but as somebody who likes and respects both visions it's hard not to feel like maybe you're overlooking the substance of this new film out of favoritism. The thematic comparison to Stroszek is much more appropriate (and how funny is it to see the dancing chicken music revived too?).

  • Comment number 7.

    The pairing of Herzog, one of my favourite directors, with Cage, one of my least favourite actors was making it very difficult to decide whether or not to see it. From Mark's review and from the trailer I just don't think I could bare to sit there and watch the gurning hysterical cardboard Cage. Having watched a string of powerful and affecting Herzog documentaries, ending with the Wings of Hope, I think my return to Herzog fiction will not be with a Nicholas Cage film.

  • Comment number 8.

    Face it Mark. Ferrara's version was a B movie too. Keitel's performance was 'committed' and lifted it into the must-see class, but the story wasn't that good. A modern day parable of St Paul's conversion and ultimate fate, or summat like that.

    Mark says the Herzog version "isn't going to change the world". How did Ferrara's version (vision) change it?

    Now Mark and comment 4 above have both pointed it out, the compare and contrast game between the two films could be fun.

    For starters. Keitel has visions of Christ; Cage has visions of iguanas. (Iguanas, snakes, crocodiles and fish are all cold blooded; and Cage's character has become...? Sorry.)

    Keitel dies to save other sinners; Cage ... I'll try not to give spoilers; but there's a chance of personal change, dare I say redemption, but the background suggests that dangers (personal demons?) always lurk. Perhaps Herzog sees a cosmic joke? Or that redemption isn't that simple.

    If this is Herzog bringing his own vision to Ferrara's angsty, suffering and religiosity ridden story I'd suggest he next takes on Lars Von Wotsits terrible (and misogynist) suffering and religiosity ridden tale Breaking the Waves. A film I hated and that deserves an alternative vision.

    I thought this was Herzog having fun, and not on bad form; it's also entertaining, though its not an Aguirre. BL-POCNO is a black comedy, particularly if you've seen the first Bad Lietenant and know your cop thrillers; this tries to gently subvert; there are some serious points in it, but unlike Ferrara this is satire.

    As for Cage, when he does bad he does it better than most, as in Lord of War. I thought he was on good form here; entertaining and kind of plausible, given the material anyway.

  • Comment number 9.

    It's left-enant, not loo-tenant!

  • Comment number 10.

    Haven't seen 'Bad Lieutenant' yet, but I enjoyed the review.

    On a side note; I didn't notice the 'Please note this content is only available to UK viewers' notice until after watching the review. I hope I haven't caused an international incident, having viewed this outside of the UK.

    On a second side note; I was also thoroughly entertained by the fact that the volume level goes to 11. Another reason to like your site, Dr. K.

  • Comment number 11.

    I watched this film with someone who seemed very sceptical by the premise. However, the film fully won both of us over. I thought Mr Cage's performance was an eccentric revelation and I am usually one of the first to criticise him. The film was beautifully shot, the close-ups on the lizards where hilariously odd.

    Through this film I shall be looking to see more of Herzog's work. If they are as good as this film, or as Mr K believes- better, then I am in for a treat.

    Great review again Mr K and Mr M.

  • Comment number 12.

    Oh, apologies for calling the Good Doctors- Mr's. My bad.

  • Comment number 13.

    From Bloody Disgusting.

    "According to The QT Archives, two local tabloids write that Tarantino will be visiting Vienna, Austria in order to location scout a new Dracula movie! Obviously, he could be there to shoot anything, so definitely plan on being disappointed. More soon."

    Great another overlong rehash of the classic novel.

  • Comment number 14.

    i must say i agree with steev on this one
    while i agree with you that ferrara's original is a denser and darker work concerned with different themes, your taking herzog's film a bit too lightly

    the film is both a rich exploration of america and its values and a gripping ironic take on the genre

    to describe cage's performance as over the top would be a massive understatement, its a wonder to behold, welcome back mr. cage

    and Shea Whigham was just amazing

    its definitely one of my films of the year, right up there with a prophet, the road and dogtooth

  • Comment number 15.

    The truth is that I don't think I'll ever be able to bring myself to watch this film, out of respect for Ferrara's original masterpiece.

  • Comment number 16.


    Yes! It wasn't until you mentioned it that I realised I'd completely forgotten to mention the reprise of the music from Stroszek. If there is one thing I know about Herzog, it's that he doesn't do things like that by coincidence.

    Despite the shades of a more serious motive from Herzog, I'm very much inclined to agree with the idea that this is Herzog cutting loose to some extent. And this notion that BL is a 'bad' film and just as 'bad' as anything Michael Bay has regurgitated is kind of disingenuous, I think. I mean, honestly, how can you criticise something for being 'bad' when it is so very clearly aware that it is 'bad'?

    That said, I'm siding with the Good Doc regarding the somewhat confused 'voice' of this film: is it a Cage film, or a Herzog? There certainly seems to be some tension there, and not just in the performance and idiosyncratic formal techniques either: it'd be interesting to know who came up with that strange little story Cage's character tells about looking for treasure as a kid and finding a spoon. Its quasi-philosophical tone sounded decidedly Herzogian to me.

  • Comment number 17.

    There's a few interviews with Herzog (WITH SPOILERS) about his Bad Lieutenant.
    Is it a Herzog film or a Cage film. I get the impression it's very much a Herzog, see what you think?

    Herzog's also done a recent movie with David Lynch (producing) and Willem Dafoe and Michael Shannon, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, about a true life murder case. What little I've read about says that it's also (unsurprisingly) a bit strange; an exploration of madness rather than murder; anyone seen it?

  • Comment number 18.


    I agree, the scene with the spoon felt like the most Herzog-centric moment of the film for me as well, that and when McDonagh finds the fish in the glass with the note next to it. A lot of other things were more Cage, like the part where he tells the story about the football players sprouting antlers.

    But that's a lot of what I like about it, in a lot of ways it is like a glorified trainwreck. The tone shifts around, the lead performance is erratic, the dialogue is all over the place (Swiss cotton underpants?) and Herzog has his iguanas singing Release Me and breaking the fourth wall... but it's so aware how ridiculous it all is that the film transcends bad and reaches fun and parodical. Both Cage and Herzog have such strong personalities that there's a bit of tug-of-war over who is leading who, but then again is that really much different from Herzog's earlier collaborations with Kinski?

    I actually agree with both you and the Doctor, it is essentially Herzog cutting loose and that it is one of his more incidental films, though not by any means a bad one. I was just taking a bit of umbrage with his comparison of Port Call to Ferrara's film. Port Call is clearly NOT Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant nor, by Herzog's word, was it ever intended to be. I think Herzog had his own ideas concerning what his movie was about and none of those ideas have anything to do with its titled predecessor unless by coincidence.

    That probably reads a bit more disgruntled than I actually am over the matter. I'm not punching my laptop screen over here or wailing in the streets but it just struck me as kind of a silly thing to do. Overall I thought the review was pretty spot on though.

  • Comment number 19.

    @Amber - Are you a film critic? If not you should consider it as a career, your comments are always erudite and incisive.
    I went to see Bad Lieutenant last night and whilst I generally enjoyed it I couldn't help thinking that it wasn't sure what it wanted to be. What was the movie's message? Was it meant to be a comedy? (in the viewing I went to there was much guffawing and chuckling going on!) Was it an artistic piece? (cue reptile's eye view) I was more than a little confused by it's jumpy tone.
    It is inevitable that this movie will be compared to the Keitel/Ferrara one. It has the same title and it very clearly has a similar basis to its plot - the lost and corrupt cop.
    Having also seen the Ferrara version during it's limited original release I can without a doubt say that it is a better movie. It has a clear moral message even though the subject matter is tough to watch; and Keitel's performance is outstanding. I totally agree with Dr K in that it is a more important movie.
    Whilst Herzog's movie has the same central basis, it is a very different movie altogether. Weird, ("Shoot him again his soul is still dancing!"), confusing, uncomfortable viewing at times (the scene where he uses his badge to stop the young couple so he can nick their drugs) with no discernable message, yet somehow I came out quite liking it.
    Even with all of my doubts about it, it is still a very "different" and unusual film but seminal it ain't. Cage is good enough if a little OTT at times, but I would also say that Eva Mendes and Brad Dourif were outstanding in their smaller roles.

  • Comment number 20.

    @Marge: ha ha, no. Just a cinephile with no qualifications and too much time on her hands to worry over the state of Herzog's iguanas. Maybe I'm taking Dr. Kermode's encouragement that we share our opinions a little too much to heart?

    If anything at least the two films together serve as an curious example of Auteur theory in action. That two artists can take a similar central premise and produce two such radically different films is kind of fascinating.

    While I was typing out this response, I started thinking of the bit where Cage is behind the door with the electric razor and now I can't stop laughing. Good movie, bad movie, it is officially the gift that keeps giving.

  • Comment number 21.


    Yes the bit when he is shaving behind the door is pure cinematic gold!

    My Son, My Son is supposed to be Herzog's best film since Aguirre, Kasper, Fitz, according to TimeOut anyway. Michael Shannon playing a psycho who kills his mother is a very exciting prospect. In Revolutionary Road, he played another psycho and his performance was so great that in the few minutes he was on screen, he put Leo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet to shame. Herzog's passion for psychosis is unrivalled, and My Son, My Son I believe duly is one of the finest cinematic prospects for this year or any.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think the intent of Herzog's BL is to demonstrate the hypnagogic effect of drug addiction and that Cage is the best actor for demonstrating hypnagogic effects (Bringing Out The Dead; Lord of War, Leaving Las Vegas). Let's just forget, for a minute, the Wicker Man remake....thanks.

    For me the difference between Herzog's and Ferrara's BLs is that Herzog's actually ends on a positively redemptive note. I love Cage's laugh at the end. It sums up life and suffering. Whereas I felt that in Ferrara's ending we relished the death of the BL because he was so deserving of it.

    Ferrara's BL strikes me as very much a "boy film". Kietel's character is not sympathetic to any degree. It's almost like the film assaults us with the most unsympathetic character you could possibly portray and challenges us to find some humanity in him. And he disappoints us by showing no humanity, so there is no tragedy in his end. I found the film pretty pointless beyond a portrayal of confronting and tragic brutality.

    Herzog at least gives us a laugh at the absurdity of it all and makes that absurdity clear. As he always does. Ferrara's BL shows you that life can be pretty nasty. Herzog's BL shows you that life can be pretty nasty but it's also more complicated than that.

  • Comment number 23.

    I saw an advert for the Cage version of Bad Lieutenant and thought why has someone made a film with the same title as the Kietel one. It never even occured to me that anyone would remake it. I can't picture Cage in the role. It's like Brian Blessed taking the lead in Gone in Sixty Seconds.

  • Comment number 24.

    I've just seen Bad Lieutenant and I thought it was dull and overlong. New Oleans was wasted as a potentially rich backdrop and the supporting characters were lifeless and generic. Reptiles stood in for chickens as a homage to the director's previous body of work.

    Overall the film lacked the genuinly unique cinematic vision of films like Strosek, The Enigma Of Kasper Hauser and Even Dwarfs Started Small. Now and then there were signs of what the film could have been but no doubt these were curtailed in order to make a more box-office friendly product. As for the original Bad Lieutenant, it was a laughably overwrought affair which I could never take seriously.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thank you for restricting "this content … to UK viewers". I can ignore it with a clear conscience.

  • Comment number 26.

    First Kick Ass and now this. Nic Cage is back on form. But for me the most puzzling thing was the hair style? I didn't get that. What was that all about? He looked like he was wearing a wig.

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree with you on both points 'peopleshernandez'!
    He is getting back on form...however @Amber is right when she says that he is "slightly insane". I fully expect to see (or rather not see) more movies in the vein of Wicker Man...he doesn't seem to care what he makes!
    I personally like Raising Arizona, Peggy Sue Got Married, Adaptation, and everyone seems to forget Moonstruck, probably because it's not obscure or odd enough but it's an example that he can pull the reins in a bit when he wants to.
    Leaving Las Vegas will always be his defining moment though.

  • Comment number 28.

    To be honest, i thought this film was relatively lame. Not because of Nick Cage (who I'm not the greatest fan of in the first place), or because of Werner Herzog, but because when all is said and done - it isn't Abel Ferrara's version. I saw that movie for the first time a long time ago now - and have seen it many times since - and it is still as striking and powerful as it has ever been.
    Dont get me wrong, this version still has it's moments... But in terms of the sheer feeling of despair and darkness that u will undoubtedly take away from the origional, this doesnt really hold a a torch to Ferrara's morbid classic. (See what i did there?)
    My point is basically this.... as the incomparable Robert DeNiro said in the closing line to "Casino" - "...Why mess up a good thing?"


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