Monday, January 04, 2010


Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer
Director: Werner Herzog
Runtime: 116 min.
Verdict: An absolute waste of time.
Genre: Crime, Comedy, Thriller, Drama

        I thought I had missed something. But I had apparently not. And reader, neither is this a mad film, nor is it about madness. It might be about looney behavior, but we get those all the time. For starters, there is not one thing that is established/discovered/learnt about the titular character in the opening fifteen minutes that is not there in the entire picture. The script is nothing but a repetitive exercise in asking the protagonist, one Sergeant Terence McDonagh (Mr. Cage) to display the mannerisms of a nutcase. Sad part is, they are mannerisms pulled right out the Lunacy-101 manual. You know, like say a weird thing with a straight face, and then cap it with a loud laugh. Or pull out a yawn in between a line just to show he is relaxed. Or twitch your nose. Twitch your eyebrows. Or raise your pitch from time to time. It is a performance Mr. Cage has been faking pretty much in every other movie since, well, I don’t know when. And as for all those critics hailing it as the right-actor-in-the-right-role masterstroke, I believe they should endeavor to more informed and less hyperbolic film criticism. There is an actor called Tom Hardy, and there is a movie called Bronson, which is the real deal. The real madness. Here is an actor who has let it go, and not just put on a performance read out of a manual.
        And as for Mr. Herzog, his film is dancing on the surface. There is no subtext, no second layer, nothing in the image that is to be felt, and everything only to be seen. He brags and smacks with perspective shots from a crocodile and a couple of iguanas, and a dancing soul gracing the scene of a shootout, and although these might be impressive, they don’t have any lasting impact. You see, that is the problem I have always had with Herzog the narrator. His images are quite often too literal for their own good, often causing to affect the life of the image. As a documentarian, when he is capturing, this is the very trait that lends him the awesomeness. And that is precisely what lets him down in feature films. He has made a funny film about a mad cop, and neither is the movie funny, nor does it seems it knows madness other than an academic definition of it. It is caught up between a perfunctory plot, and the unnecessary attention to it only gets in the way of spending quality explorative time with the titular lieutenant. Everything about the film is mechanical, and written, and nothing’s organic. The supposedly bad lieutenant is amoral, but he is amoral only in a patterned sort of way. He never assumes a life of his own, expect for a set of characteristics. There isn’t a single character that is even remotely interesting. Not the two-bit gangsters, not the sidekick cops, not the girl, not the dad, not the kid, not anybody. And if that was all intended, I believe, the film at least owed us an interesting bad lieutenant. It is a joke, intended as a big joke, a big weird joke, and that is all there is to it. It comes out though as a big unfunny joke. It is not risky. It is not fearless. It is not dark. It is just being calculative like that other film this year – Observe and Report. The ending is just silly. The lieutenant doesn’t change the entire film, not from moment one to moment last, but the script presents the epilogue as some sort of revelation. And if you think you have seen it before, remember Yashwant Lohar? Or remember Martin Riggs? Ah, Mel Gibson! Now there is an actor who can be, well, cranky. And give you the creeps. It is in those eyes and that scary smile.


Just Another Film Buff said...

Oh man, I thought this was was pure camp and pure fun - camp not in the teen-movie sense. But TRUE camp. I knew I've seen all this bizarre action before and heard all these hammy dialogs before, but I never once felt being thrust into a policier forcefully.

And yes, the New Orleans locations are always foreboding, as are the animal POVs, as if underscoring Herzog's belief that all these petty individuals and systems are going to be razed down by nature.

It was also interesting that how WH reduces Cage's character to its animal basics, beasts being everywhere in the film. A crazy Darwinian ride that only this auteur could have made without being pretentious.

But then, I can also see why anyone would be put off by the film.

man in the iron mask said...

I like camp man. I love camp. Two words: Inglorious Basterds
But Quentin Tarantino does it in his own inimitable way, where it is actually a joy. I just don’t get what was so special in Bad Lieutenant that we haven’t watched before. It was just, well, obligatory.
What I loved was the animal shots. I mean, the script is a mistake. Herzog does whatever he can with the material at hand, but those animal shots were out of place. They were awesome, probably the movie’s best part, but they felt out of place, calling attention to themselves. Or maybe the complete movie was so ordinary, that it didn’t deserve such extraordinary shots.

Ab Van said...

Lord! This was a disaster.

I would have hated this movie less if I had not seen the 1992, Abel Ferrara/Harvey Keitel version. But then I have and I happen to believe that it is an absolute masterpiece.

I had only one question watching this movie:
What was so special in this movie that needed Herzog's direction?

Everyone was on autopilot...Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer (what was he doing in this movie?) ...everyone.

Any tom-dick-harry "studio" director could've handled this one. Instead they chose to insult two directors in one go.


man in the iron mask said...

Precisely my point. Or the lack of it.

Point Blank anyone? Payback anyone? Now those were the real stuff.

Amar said...

I liked this movie. Maybe because I haven't seen the original one by Abel Ferrara. I don't agree with you when you say that Terence McDonough is not a multi-layered human being. Despite having many issues with the movie, one can not help thinking about this complex character called Terence...