© 2010 Ray Wong
A remake of Harvey Keitel's 1992 movie, Bad Lieutenant follows the life of a New Orleans detective as he tries to crack a multiple-murder case.
Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) recently got promoted to lieutenant after a heroic act during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His investigation of a multiple-homicide case leads him through the underbelly of New Orleans' organized crime.
McDonagh is also a drug and gambling addict. His on-and-off girlfriend, Frankie (Eva Mendes), is a high-class call girl who relies on him for her fix. But McDonagh's sources are quickly drying up, not to mention he's seriously owing his bookie, Ned (Brad Dourif).
The investigation leads McDonagh and his partner Pruit (Val Kilmer) to gangster Big Fate (Xzibit). However, they don't have any physical evidence and their only witness is a fifteen-year-old boy Daryl (Denzel Whitaker), who, due to McDonagh's negligence, promptly flees the country. At the same time, he gets tangled up with another mobster, who now demands a big payout, while trying to defend Frankie. Eventually, McDonagh makes a deal with Big Fate, to be his inside job at the NOPD, in exchange for a cut in the cocaine trade that could satisfy his drug habit and get him out of debt once and for all.
Nicolas Cage (Knowing) returns to playing antihero with great effect. As the severely flawed protagonist, Cage is both difficult and a joy to watch. Not since Leaving Las Vegas has Cage given us such a down-and-out, shady character that elicits such pity and fascination at the same time. He's very interesting when he's not playing a superhero.
Eva Mendes (The Spirit) is sexy playing the part of a fucked-up prostitute. Her character is kind of superficial but, ironically, she makes us understand McDonagh better, why he's so drawn to her in the first place -- she's always there for him, as he is for her. Val Kilmer (Hardwired), despite second billing, has a relatively small role as Detective Pruit. His character is just as corrupt as McDonagh, but seemingly without the requisite conscience.
The supporting cast is all solid, including Jennifer Coolidge (ExTerminators) as McDonagh's alcoholic stepmother; she always gives interesting performances although she's quickly becoming a parody. Fairuza Balk (Grindstone Road) plays an officer who has the hots for McDanagh; she's super hot herself. Brad Dourif (Junkyard Dog) is effectively edgy as McDonagh's bookie. And Xzibit (American Violet) is super cool as mob boss Big Fate.
Written by William M. Finkelstein (NYPD Blue), based on Victor Argo's original, the screenplay is an interesting mix of character study, crime thriller, suspense, and comedy. McDonagh is written and portrayed as a seriously flawed, corrupt crook of a cop, and there's no sugar coating. Except McDonagh is also a decent human being in that he is always polite and nice first, until he's being trampled upon or pushed. And that he never hurts, at least not intentionally, the innocent. Now, if you're a crook yourself, all bets are off. That's probably the biggest strength of the story: this unflinching, uncompromising character that is not your everyday hero, but a hero nonetheless. We end up pitying him but also wishing him well.
Finkelstein's screenplay follows multiple threads and weaves them together skillfully. At times, it's an odd experience, to see how the plot unfolds as different seemingly unrelated subplots mesh together. There's also an edge to the writing, and a taut tension through and through. At times, the characters do come across as too hardboiled, somewhat clichéd: the corrupt cop with a conscience, the prostitute with a heart of gold, the absent father, the indifferent stepmother, etc. However, Finkelstein is able to compensate with witty dialogue, wacky scenarios and interesting characterization of the protagonist, who despite all his flaws is really good at his job.
Director Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn) is able to sustain the story with intensity and humor. The look and feel of the film is often gritty and, honestly, rather unattractive. It doesn't show New Orleans in the greatest light, and why should it? It's not a travel log. In a way, it is a reminder to us how much that city is hurting, and continues to hurt. What Herzog manages to do is keeping it real (despite some surreal moments), creating a world where these characters live and breathe in. New Orleans may not be a glamorous place, but it has an edge unlike any place else. The result is a bad-ass movie that is fun to watch.
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Jennifer Coolidge, Fairuza Balk, Brad Dourif, Xzibit, Michael Shannon
Director: Werner Herzog
Writers: William M. Finkelstein, Victor Argo
Distributor: First Look
MPAA Rating: R for drug use, language, violence and sexuality
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.6 out of 10