For good old Jenny Leask.
It’s taken me rather a long time to catch up on the Herzogian renaissance. Since at least as far back as SCREAM OF STONE (1991) and probably back to COBRA VERDE (1987), his dramatic features had been somewhere beyond disappointing, with INVINCIBLE particularly unsatisfactory. Oh, his documentaries had continued to be terrific (apart from WILD BLUE YONDER, I thought, which had the most fictional elements), and had even improved with the addition of more humour and self-awareness, but I was starting to doubt whether he’d ever make a good fiction film again.
The ones that seem to have possibilities are RESCUE DAWN (leap-frogging from a successful documentary into a dramatic remake), MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE (a fact-based story given a dramatic makeover) and THE BAD LIEUTENANT: POR OF CALL NEW ORLEANS, which is the odd man out in many, many ways, since it’s based not on fact, but on the title of an Abel Ferrara film Herzog claims not to have seen.
I’m sometimes rather conservative about renaissances. I haven’t seen a new Woody Allen film since DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (but bits of SMALL TIME CROOKS convinced me this wasn’t the one) so I haven’t yet formed an opinion as to whether his form has been returned to, or his mojo has turned up. I saw THE PIANIST via somebody’s BAFTA screener, so I became convinced that Polanski was rallying late in life without outlaying any cash on the chance of it. While CARNAGE strikes me as very minor, it was funny and just about satisfactory (and very skillfully made).
So, I had some doubts about Herzog, but we popped BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS in the Panasonic and gave it a spin. It probably helps that I’m not a fan of the Ferrara — not that you have to be Catholic to get it, I’m sure, but I certainly couldn’t warm to the particular form of redemption on offer. Herzog’s, after an equally wild ride, is more muted, more incomplete and more realistic, which is a surprising place to reach after the kind of trip he’s taken us on.
Unpicking what was an extremely enjoyable experience for Fiona and I, I do wonder how much of it is truly a Herzog film. Kudos to William M. Finkelstein for the propulsive/picaresque screenplay, which carries off the trick of seeming scattershot while being tightly organized, and to Nic Cage for a performance that aspires to Kinski but achieves… Nic Cage. Herzog, for much of the film, seems like he’s being professional rather than animating the film with added mania of his own, except for the lizard-cam stuff, which he apparently shot himself, and maybe this moment — I’m assuming the dialogue is scripted but was the Lynchian breakdancer present in the screenplay?
Finkelstein, I see, is an old hand at cop TV, which explains the credibility and the effective taut/loose balance, so maybe we can assume that some of the real crazy stuff comes from Herzog, Cage, and the rest of the fine cast (good to see Fairuza Balk, Eva Mendes continues to impress, we fell in love with Shea Whigham and his “Whoa yeah” performance).
Cage is a fearless actor, and we should probably all stop being mean about the stupid moves he pulls in bad movies, because they’re a necessary consequence of the mad brilliance he achieves in good ones. That’s the way I feel after seeing a good Cage film, anyway. The trouble is, I feel the opposite after seeing a bad one, and there are so many bad ones. If he stopped trying to enliven crud and confined his abilities to movies with a smidgin of value, it’d be much easier to overlook things that don’t work, like his hair.
BALD BAD LIEUTENANT PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS offers N.C. ample opportunities to be weird, and without researching the effects of every narcotic known to man, it’s hard for me to say whether what he’s doing has any basis in actual human behaviour. But I loved his lopsided walk, presumably a result of his character’s spinal injury (plus I suspect he’s been neglecting his physio) and the way his delivery deteriorates as the film goes on, as if he were huffing helium and numbing his jaws with dental anesthetic, which seems quite possible. His smile comes on slow and then drops fast as if the effort of maintaining it were too much for his soul to bear. Strange and nameless facial expressions cavort across his sagging countenance as if auditioning for a permanent position there. Is he smiling at that iguana, just grimacing, or is it love? We may never know.
Channeling Timothy Carey.
The idea of a completely unfaithful remake following relatively shortly after the original seemed strange at the time, but I sense a franchise — every ten years we can have a different BAD LIEUTENANT with a different star, director and city. Suggestions?