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Monday, January 18, 2010

Dead can Breakdance

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans


I'm pretty sure Herzog went with the title for its sheer awkwardness or the use of (or should use) two colons and didn't set out to make a film in direct connection with its namesake. First off, this is not a remake or a follow-up or anyway to be confused with Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant (1992). However, the two films do make interesting contrasts, and diverge so much that they can't help but be seen as in conversation with each other. In his film Ferrara out Scorsese'd Scorsese (in fact Marty would call it the best film of the decade) making simultaneously a wailing of the damned that also was an astonishing mystery play about the depth of Christ's grace. That film, one of the few notable films with an NC-17 rating, was one of the most difficult and challenging films I've seen, one that made something like Raging Bull look pleasant in comparison, but also one of the key religious film texts.

While this film is extremely enjoyable, it also concerns a police Lieutenant who is involved in drugs, sex, and gambling debts. However, Cage's Lieutenant differs from Keitel's in one major way: he has redeemable qualities. He sorta, or begrudgingly wants or feels he should do the right thing, even though he's high out of his mind too often to remember why. Keitel gave the performance of his career and Cage may have done so as well. He plays a role that should, in no way be possible to play, and pulls it off. Similarly, Herzog is able to direct such a zany script, especially its last 20 minutes, in the perfect tone; partly darkly comic, indulgent, alienating, fantastic, and surreal. In some ways its tone felt like the film version of playing Grand Theft Auto.

Herzog may be all sorts of a misanthrope but I don't think even he could condone this sort of behaviour. And there's far too much depth to say that this is just guilty fun or a subversion of all the films that have the bad cop character. I think the film perhaps says that there is a spark of life, maybe a break dancing soul in everyone. Or at least it says that no matter what a person is: a gambler, thief, addict, they are still a person first; they are not defined by their actions. Or maybe I'm wrong and it does say that three, no six wrongs (or ten?) make a right.

1 comment:

Davey Morrison said...

Yeah. I need to see Ferrara's original, even though I'm kind of scared to. What I loved about the film is exactly what you mention--that there's too much depth for it just to be written off as Herzog and Cage being weird and crazy and silly and ironic for a couple hours. There's a lot of weirdness and craziness and silliness and irony, but there's also a whole lot of humanity. It was one of the most life-affirming movies I've seen from last year.