Bad Lieutenant

Nicholas Cage stars in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and the movie is awesome. Some disagree. Let me explain why these “some” are wrong.

First, some reviews compare the movie to a 1992 flick directed by Abel Ferrara. In this movie, a corrupt cop does a bunch of ridiculous things, earning the movie an NC-17 rating. Such reviews complain that this movie isn’t as offensive, graphic, or gritty, and they’re right, but that’s because Werner Herzog wasn’t aiming to follow up Ferrara’s movie, and comparisons between the two movies miss the point.

That’s because as I see it, the latest Bad Lieutenant is not a crime drama or a cop story, but rather a very sophisticated comedy. The movie isn’t going for grittiness or offensiveness, though I think it sometimes achieves both of those moods; rather, it’s going for a kind of sarcastic commentary on New Orleans, a devastated city filled with ruined people. The satisfying point of the movie is that it’s funny, but not because the characters are trying to be funny. This isn’t a comedy in that crude sense. The characters take everything deadly serious; their world is no joke. But for us it is a joke. The antics of Nicholas, the deus ex machina ending, and Cage’s sprinkled hallucinations all create a cynical humor that pervades the movie. Cage is simply a bad lieutenant, and he gets what he wants. Awesome.

Also, there is a philosophical point to the movie, which I think is that immoral people succeed best when they can find a moral community to parasitically infect. Even the gangster’s behave somewhat morally in that they fulfill their bargain with Cage and don’t just shoot him at various opportune moments. Cage is the bad guy, as the title suggests, but he needs the rule of law, honor, and authority to fulfill his impulses. Like the Fool in Hobbes, the most successful egoist is the one that knows how to fake altruism.

Finally, I want to note that the director, Werner Herzog, wins the war of words in terms of defending his movie. Abel Ferrara melodramatically said, in reference to Herzog and his crew, “”I wish these people die in Hell. I hope they’re all in the same streetcar, and it blows up.” Die in hell? Is that possible? It doesn’t matter because Herzog’s response was pretty good. When asked about Ferrara’s comments, Herzog replied “I have no idea who Abel Ferrara is. I don’t feel like doing homage to Abel Ferrara because I don’t know what he did — I’ve never seen a film by him. I have no idea who he is. Is he Italian? Is he French? Who is he?” I think this is funny because Herzog is famous (among movie people) and successful, and so his response nicely leverages his social status against an immature and obviously pretty insignificant rival. Way to be strong Werner.


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